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Board to decide on school crossing guards

| Thursday, Aug. 21, 2003

Pittsburgh school board members said Wednesday night they will decide next week whether to pay the costs of school crossing guards this fall, but not before accusing city officials of playing politics with children's safety.

The remarks came after Mayor Tom Murphy proposed that the school district pick up the entire $1.7 million cost for the city's 202 crossing guards from Sept. 1 until the end of the year.

"The safety of our children is an issue to us all, but to make it political is very disconcerting," board member Jean Wood said. "We are not going to play these games. We are not ready to play with our children's lives."

Wood's words were met with applause from her fellow board members and Pittsburgh Public Schools staff.

Superintendent John Thompson, board President Darlene Harris and schools Solicitor Ira Weiss will deliver a recommendation to the board at its next meeting on whether to accept Murphy's proposal.

Whether the district will have to pony up additional money for 2004 is contingent on what legislators in Harrisburg do with Murphy's bailout plan for the city, according to the mayor's proposal.

"Our goal was always to just get through the fall," said City Council President Gene Ricciardi, who attended the meeting with several other council members.

More than 100 crossing guards also attended, gathering outside the district administration building in Oakland before the meeting. All of the city's crossing guards received layoff notices Friday as part of Murphy's larger plan to deal with an estimated $40 million budget shortfall this year.

The crossing guards -- who make $60.61 a day and receive full health-care benefits -- were supposed to begin work Monday.

The board will meet at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 27 at the administration building, 341 S. Bellefield Ave. The crossing guards plan to rally before the meeting.

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