West Mifflin crossing guards say raise overdue
Crossing the street safely is one of life's early lessons. The instruction usually begins before we start school but it is not one that schools or communities can take for granted.
Take West Mifflin for example. The borough has a lot of busy roads, many of which have little or nothing in the way of sidewalks.
To help students reach their destination safely, the West Mifflin Area School District and borough share the cost of 25 regular crossing guards and nine substitutes at busy intersections before and after school.
Recently, two crossing guards who work at intersections not far from New Emerson Elementary School approached the district and the borough about getting a pay increase, which they say is something they haven't received in four years.
“All we're asking for is a 50 cent raise,” said crossing guard Leslie Judy, who spends four hours a day at the intersection of Pennsylvania and Taft avenues. Judy, who has been a guard for six years, said having her wages remain stagnant for so long makes her feel undervalued.
“We just don't feel like we're being appreciated,” she said.
Judy's counterpart down Pennsylvania Avenue at the Mellon Street intersection agrees.
Faith Edwards has been a crossing guard for the district since 1997. She started working near Century III Mall but now works closer to home in the Riverview neighborhood.
Edwards, who says she's almost been hit twice by impatient drivers and sometimes feels more like a baby sitter than a guardian of public safety, contends the 3 percent raise would not place undue burden on the budgets of either the district or the borough. She said raises used to be 30 cents a year.
“I don't want to overstep and I don't want to get fired, but give me a break,” Edwards said. “I know the budget is tight but what is 3 percent?”
The two women, like all crossing guards in the borough, earn $10.61 per hour. They start work before 7 a.m. and work until 9 a.m., then return to work from 2:20 to 4 p.m.
Their appeals to the school board and borough at meetings this winter have borne no immediate fruit. School officials told them it's the borough that sets their pay rate and the borough told them there is nothing to be done now in the early stages of a new budget.
West Mifflin borough manager Brian Kamauf said officials will consider the guards as budget planning for 2014 begins, but there is no guarantee they will get a raise.
Kamauf said the guards are eligible for a retirement fund that pays $100 a month if they put in 20 years. He said the job typically appeals to parents and retirees because it offers a little supplemental income.
Compensation for crossing guards varies significantly from community to community.
Clairton City School District has nothing in its budget for crossing guards and has only two volunteers who help children get to the district's single school building.
Clairton schools spokeswoman Alexis Trubiani said with the volunteer system the guards only can help as their schedule allows. She said other adults in the neighborhood often step up to help students cross the street, and police patrol the area of the school when students are present.
Crossing guards in McKeesport are paid by the city and represented by Teamsters Local 205. In addition to a flat daily rate of $66.40, guards also receive retirement and health benefits.
In the West Jefferson Hills School District, Pleasant Hills has nine regular and six substitute guards, who are split-funded by the borough and district. Pleasant Hills police Chief Ed Cunningham said guards who put in 180 hours a year get top pay, between $14 and $15 an hour.
“They're put in for raises every year just like the other employees,” Cunningham said. “I think we have an outstanding group. They look professional in their uniforms, they stand out in all kinds of weather and they have an excellent relationship with the kids.”
In Jefferson Hills, which is also part of the district, crossing guards are paid $10 per session, with the pay depending on the number of sessions assigned.
Jefferson Hills police Chief Gene Roach said guards are stationed near major school bus stops and may work morning, midday and afternoon patrols. A substitute guard may be hired at a Jefferson Hills council voting meeting on Monday.
Elizabeth Forward School District has three crossing guards on payroll who work crossings in the Greenock, Boston and Mt. Vernon neighborhoods of Elizabeth Township for a $7.45 hourly rate, with the township picking up half the cost.
Elizabeth borough does not split costs with the district. This year, the borough budgeted $1,406 for its single crossing guard, who earns a little more than $7 per hour, according to the borough.
There is no pay standardization in the Steel Valley School District for crossing guards, where costs are shared by the boroughs of Homestead, Munhall and West Homestead. Hourly rates in that district vary from $8 to $12.67.
Of the three communities served by South Allegheny School District, only one provides funds for crossing guards.
“South Allegheny has five crossing guards, all in Port Vue, who are employed and paid by Port Vue borough,” said district spokeswoman Laura Thomson.
Port Vue borough manager Joan Winters said those guards earn $7.50 an hour.
“They have not had a raise for a couple years,” Winters said. “The school district will never join in with us. According to the borough code they should be paying half of it, but they do not, so we've covered everything for the uniform allowance and the salaries.”
Norwin doesn't fund crossing guards either, and East Allegheny School District has one crossing guard whose position is half-funded by North Versailles Township.
Back in West Mifflin, Judy said people don't realize the importance of crossing guards. Drivers don't want to slow down for a school bus, even when its safety flashers are on. Some will try to cut through a parking lot or side street to avoid a minute or so delay.
As middle school students pour out of a bus at Judy's stop, it is evident their first thoughts are not about traffic safety. Two girls emerge talking about a song on the radio and a boy rushes across the street while others — to use one of Judy's words — “lollygag” across the busy roadway she is protecting.
The guards say they probably will appeal to the borough and school district in the future for a raise.
Judy said a passing motorist occasionally will tell her she's doing a good job. She wishes her employers would do the same when they draw up the next budget.
A raise for crossing guards, she said, “is not going to break the bank.”
Staff writers Patrick Cloonan, Stacy Lee and Jennifer R. Vertullo contributed to this report. Eric Slagle is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1966, or firstname.lastname@example.org.