Realigning of the Oak Harbor school system has created a crossing guard dilemma at the middle school in the center of town.
Tight finances resulted in Benton-Carroll-Salem School District administrators making some tough choices over the past few years. Closing three of the district’s outlying elementary schools and consolidating the lower level students at R.C. Waters Elementary on the east side of town was among the most controversial.
Fourth and fifth graders transferred to the middle school building to attend classes in the same building as sixth and seventh graders. Eighth graders were then moved to the high school.
As a result, the foot traffic around the congested middle school includes a much younger crowd, Oak Harbor Police Chief Steve Weirich said. And the traffic has increased dramatically as many parents from rural areas once serviced by the shuttered elementary schools opt to drop off their children rather than use the buses.
The most dangerous stretch is along Walnut Street where buses load as traffic passes and walkers attempt to cross the road, the chief said.
A quick solution points to hiring crossing guards to monitor Walnut Street as well as several other key locations, including Church, Park and Ottawa streets. Finding them is the hard part, Weirich said.
The chief has advertised twice in the past year at $250 a shot each time in advertising expenses. No one applied. The job pays $11.71 an hour. The school district reimburses the village police department for wages.
“It’s really hard to find someone to work those kind of hours regularly. It’s two hours a day – once from 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. and then again from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m.,” Weirich said.
The police force picks up the costs of vests, flags, rain gear, training and other necessities for the crossing guard patrol.
Fifth graders used to be part of the crossing guard patrol at R.C. Waters. But school administrators believe they are too young to handle the traffic moving about the middle school, the chief explained. They are exploring the idea of seventh graders manning the crosswalks, Weirich said, but school officials are adamant an adult should be at the Walnut Street site.
School superintendent Guy Parmigian could not be reached for comment.
A team of three regular adult crossing guards and two substitutes rotate shifts at R.C. Waters. Most are retired and they work well with one another, Weirich said.
“I asked. None of them are interested in moving over to the middle school,” he said.
Elizabeth Sutton, an employee of the Job and Family Services offices located at the nearby Ottawa County Resource Centre, had suggested police contact the department. The state requires assistance recipients to work community service hours in order to collect their checks. If program participants are used, the costs to the village or school district could be reduced, she noted.
The chief said he contacted officials there in the past week and they are trying to find someone in the Oak Harbor area who might be able to take on the crossing guard duties.
Weirich is also looking into the Safe Routes to School Grant Program to see if there is funding to help this situation or possibly any sidewalk issues surrounding all the district’s school buildings.