At the end of a lengthy, sometimes heated discussion among the city of Beaumont’s elected leaders Tuesday, July 24, Mayor Becky Ames put forth an idea that seemed to quell the ruckus on council related to the city’s role in providing school crossing guards.
The issue has been on the front burner for a couple months now, initially brought to light when retiring Beaumont Independent School District Superintendent Carrol Thomas announced off-handedly during a May school board meeting that, “as of right now we will not have school crossing guards at our schools next year.”
Thomas told the school board in May he had received a letter from Beaumont City Manager Kyle Hayes stating the city no longer wanted to continue the program, which the city had been administering and footing half the bill for since 1985.
“I did get a letter from the city saying they are no longer going to do that,” Thomas said, before delivering the meat of the communication. “As of right now we will not have school crossing guards at our schools next year. That’s where we stand. I’m in the process of seeing what can be done in regards to that – talking with (BISD attorney) Melody Chappell.”
City Manager Kyle Hayes said the information given by Thomas might be a little off.
“We sent them a letter and asked them to take over administering the (school crossing guard) program,” Hayes said. “Council hasn’t made a final decision on funding.”
According to Hayes, the City Council decided it would no longer like to be in control of administering the program, which includes hiring and training employees, and staffing shifts. The decision was yet to be made whether the city would still contribute half the funding to see the program function.
“We’re waiting to see if BISD accepts taking over the administration of the program,” Hayes said May 23. “We started now to give them plenty of time to get this transitioned before school starts in August.”
As of July 24, BISD had yet to accept administration of the program, which caused Beaumont city leaders to readdress the crossing guard issue and decide what the council would do in the event BISD fails to take control of the program.
Councilman W.L. Pate said he understood in May that the council wanted BISD to administer the program and to absorb the costs, an assertion he reaffirmed at the city’s July meeting.
“The consensus was what it was,” he said. Pate said the notion that BISD couldn’t afford to administer the program without city funds is ludicrous. “They have more money in reserves than we do,” he said.
Hayes said he didn’t know why BISD didn’t want to administer or fund the program.
“I don’t know what they based it on,” he said. “They just said if we were no longer going to help fund the program, they didn’t know if we’d have crossing guards.”
Representatives of the council had mixed reactions to the crossing guard negotiations with BISD.
“What I see here is a shake down, and I really, really, really don’t like it,” Councilman Mike Getz said. “No one is advocating we not have crossing guards. The city should provide sidewalks, police if needed … the school district should provide school crossing guards.”
Councilman Audwin Samuel was staunchly opposed to Getz’s sentiments.
“I’m bright enough to see this is not about crossing guards,” he said. “This whole issue came up because ‘someone’ did not want the city (to be involved with) the school district. I don’t like the way people are trying to play the public through fear and lack of communication.”
In the end, “communication” was agreed by the group as the avenue with the best possible outcome. Mayor Ames suggested that she and the city manager meet with representatives from BISD “to come up with some reasonable solution between logical minds instead of pitting our citizens one against another.”“We need to get to the bottom of the real issue and keep our children safe,” Ames said.
Cost estimates provided by the city reveal the school crossing guard program totaled $174,152 last year for 40 part-time employees, roughly $90,000 of which was paid with city funds while the city also absorbed 100 percent of administration responsibilities associated with the program.
Jennifer Johnson can be reached at (409) 832-1400, ext. 231, or by e-mail at jennifer [at] theexaminer [dot] com.