What began as a conversation about whether to contract an outside firm for crossing guards morphed into a Police Committee discussion Thursday about other options for handling the role.
The city employs three part-time crossing guards at two intersections near District 61 schools, costing the city a shade fewer than $24,000 annually.
The Darien Police Department this week proposed contracting Andy Frain Services to hire, train and supervise crossing guards—not to save money but to help staff the positions more efficiently.
When a crossing guard calls in sick, Deputy Chief John Cooper said, either a sworn police officer or the community service officer fills in. During the past four years, he said the community service officer has filled in for crossing guards on 98 occasions.
Andy Frain would find substitutes when guards were absent and would also assume responsibility for liability insurance, training and equipment, Cooper said.
Darien’s current trio of guards would have the first right of employment, Andy Frain said in a memo. However, to keep the service within the city’s $24,000 budget, the company’s proposal included slashing the guards’ salary to $10 an hour from as much as $15 an hour.
Darien crossing guard Victoria Bittle said that the proposed pay cut was an insult to her decades of experience in the role, the past 10 years of which have been in Darien.
“I protect the kids so good there,” she said at the meeting. “The mothers come there and tell me I’m wonderful. The don’t worry no more. They know I’m there. I’ve been off four times—four times only.”
Bittle said she helps about 25 children cross the intersection at 75th and Adams on school days. Sheila Krueger, who works at the intersection of 75th and Cass, said she ferries roughly 50 kids across the street daily.
All three aldermen present said it would be premature to make a recommendation for the future of the crossing guard program.
Ward 3 Alderman John Poteraske said a better solution might be to have District 61 staff the positions rather than have the city continue to pay the guards’ salaries, either as direct employees or through a contractor.
Ward 6 Alderman Sylvia McIvor suggested transitioning control of the guards to the district over time. As one guard retired, she said, perhaps the district could assume the responsibility for employing the replacement. Both she and Poteraske said that paying for guards for District 61 and none of the other districts serving Darien creates an imbalance.
The crossing guard issue will not appear on the official agenda for Monday’s City Council. Vana will review Thursday’s discussion during his department report, but the city won’t take any action on the matter.
The meeting starts at 7:30 p.m. Monday in City Hall.