April 9, 2015
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – The union representing New York City’s school crossing guards says there aren’t nearly enough trained monitors to keep kids safe in traffic, and they blame anemic job packages fueling low retention rates and poor recruitment efforts for the growing crisis.
Manhattan boasts the highest rate of pedestrian deaths in the city and is home to over 500 schools. Nevertheless, the traffic-ladened borough is only budgeted for a mere 349 crossing guards.
As recently as last month, a motorist on the Upper West Side struck and injured a 13-year-old boy pushing his bicycle through a crosswalk at 77th Street and Columbus Avenue, near P.S. 334.
At a rally held earlier this week at City Hall, Councilmember Helen Rosenthal [D-6th District] said that she repeatedly tried in vain to secure an additional crossing guard for the school several months prior to the crash.
“This is a perennial problem that is not getting any better,” Councilmember Rosenthal warned.
The de Blasio administration is attempting to tame dangerous city streets with its Vision Zero traffic safety plan. Motor vehicle accidents actually constitute the leading cause of injury-related death for New York City children under 14. The administration’s own figures further show that car crashes injure or kill pedestrians at the frightening rate of one every two hours.
Presently, there are about 2,300 school crossing guards spread out across the five boroughs charged with the awesome responsibility of stewarding children back and forth to class each day.
According to Local 372, however, an alarming number of crossing guard slots are actually vacant. The union puts the number of school crossing guard vacancies at 200, while the NYPD says the number is closer to 127.
Either way, Borough President Brewer calls the figure “outrageous,” and says 300 new school crossing guards are needed just to keep kids in Manhattan safe.
Proponents maintain that the city can do a lot more to attract and retain dedicated school crossing guards by guaranteeing a $15 an hour minimum wage, year-round employment, uninterrupted health insurance and increased hours.
“The most vulnerable pedestrians are the 1.1 million school children,” Local 372 President Shaun D. Francois I, said during this week’s City Hall rally. “If we are serious about implementing a true vision plan, we have to add more zeros and commas in our city budget. A zero vision plan should not mean zero funding.”
Last week, Local 372 successfully struck a deal with the city bumping up the salary floor for low-paid school crossing guards to $11.50 an hour.
Longtime school crossing guards throughout the city – most of them women of color – applaud the increase, but continue to struggle.
“Many work two and three jobs,” Keisha Rice, a Carroll Gardens crossing guard with 16 years on the job, told LaborPress. “We also have crossing guards who are homeless. The government really needs to get its act together.”
Ellen Foote, member of Families for Safe Streets, experienced the problem of crossing guard retention first hand as the former head of the Hudson River Middle School on Warren Street. As a mother who also lost a young son to a vehicular crash in 2007, Foote also understands the consequences of unguarded streets.
“Our city must do whatever it takes to make sure not one more person is killed in a traffic crash on our city streets,” Foote said.
Already a tall order, many believe that the proliferation of co-located schools throughout the city, is making the task of safeguarding local streets even more challenging, while still others point out that schools are staying open longer as they morph into “de facto community centers.”
“We are at a crossroads right now,” said Councilmember Vanessa Gibson [D-16th District], chair of the Public Safety Committee. “There are too many children and pedestrians being hit and injured by motorists. That is unacceptable. With 1,700 schools in this city with multiple co-locations, we need more than the 2,300 school crossing guards we have now.”