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Crossing-guard intersections to undergo police review in Penn Hills

| Wednesday, April 24, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

The Penn Hills School District and Penn Hills officials are looking at ways to cut the number of crossing guards who work two 90-minute shifts on weekdays across the municipality.

The district and municipality split the costs for 79 guards, and previous attempts to trim the total have failed.

Rick Liberto, the school district's business director, told the school board's finance committee April 15 about a mutual desire between the district and Penn Hills police to make substantial changes with the 79 crossing guards who currently work two daily hour-and-a-half shifts at bus stops throughout the municipality.

Liberto said police officials have asked that the school district consider the following measures regarding crossing guards: 1) that the district take on some of the administrative responsibilities such as payroll; 2) that the department supply guards with only what is legally required: a brightly colored reflective vest and a handheld stop-sign paddle; and 3) that an intersection assessment take place to identify spots where a crossing guard is not necessary, in an effort to reduce the overall number of guards.

Crossing guard are paid between $12.28 and $12.86 per hour.

In the first quarter of 2013, according to information released by the municipality, town and school officials split the cost of the guards and spent more than $171,000 on expenses related to the crossing guards, including 155 hour-and-a-half shifts during which Penn Hills police officers had to fill in for guards who called in sick or did not show up for assignments.

When police fill in, they are paid time-and-a-half, nearly $40 per hour.

Penn Hills police Chief Howard Burton said filling in puts officers in a difficult situation.

“They fill in the spots, but if they get a call, they respond, which leaves the kids on the corner with no crossing guard,” Burton said.

Police also are looking to lessen the amount of equipment they provide to guards, which in the past has included reflective gear, stop-sign paddles, winter and spring jackets, gloves, hats and boots. Burton said his department gradually has reduced the equipment they provide over the years.

Crossing guards are a unique group in Penn Hills: they are hired by the municipality and are part of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union, but they negotiate their contract with the school district, and their cost is split equally between the municipality and school district.

AFSCME staff representative Harry Rhodes said his office had not been informed about the intersection assessment, and that he would be getting in touch with Liberto.

Previous attempts to reduce the number of crossing guards have been unsuccessful. During the municipal budget process heading into 2005, the guard positions were scheduled to be reduced, but ultimately were not. During a particularly difficult budget process in 2008, the idea of cutting the guards completely was floated, but not carried out.

“In 2009, we tried to eliminate 17 crossing guards. But we started to get calls about them not being there, and the school board and municipality caved and put them back,” Liberto said.

In the coming months, police will conduct assessments of guarded intersections and recommend eliminations based on safety.

“We'll work with the school district to try and determine which posts, if any, can be eliminated,” Burton said.

“The district establishes the posts, so they'll make the final determination on the number and location.”

Burton said the criteria police will use include the volume of traffic, the type of roadway and possible safety issues that could arise if a guard is not present.

Patrick Varine is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7845 or pvarine@tribweb.com.

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