May 23, 2018
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Presque Isle council withholds crossing guard funds

By Jen Lynds, BDN Staff

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Despite support expressed for retaining crossing guards around area schools, city councilors decided not to restore funding for the service during a meeting Wednesday evening.

City officials stressed that they wanted to work with SAD 1 to find the best solution for everyone, City Clerk Nancy Nichols said Thursday.

“The money was not put back into the budget,” she said. “Several people at the meeting spoke in favor of restoring the money for the crossing guards, but the council feels that this is something the school could take care of.”

A decision by the city in late summer to eliminate crossing guard services at schools in SAD 1 raised objections from school board members concerned about the safety of students and staff.

City Manager Tom Stevens had said the cuts were necessary to cope with a drastic drop in revenue.

Stevens was unavailable for comment this week.

School board members have acknowledged that the district and the city are facing challenging economic times, but they are concerned that the cuts could result in a serious accident.

Four crossing guards had been assigned to the Griffin Street crossing between Presque Isle High School and Zippel Elementary School; the Griffin and Blake streets area; on North Street; and at Pine Street Elementary School.

They were the only crossing guards in the district.

The city’s budget cuts were made in late July and took effect immediately, so the guards were not employed when school began in the district last month.

Eliminating the positions will save the city nearly $19,000 a year.

Stevens has said the decision was difficult but necessary at a time when the city had to reduce its 2009 municipal budget by more than $632,000 after decreases in state revenue-sharing money generated through excise taxes.

He added that there are alternatives in place for parents and students in the form of buses and personal vehicles, Stevens said.

The city has offered to provide officers from the Presque Isle Police Department to train school personnel to serve as crossing guards at no cost to the district, the manager said.

The objections of the SAD 1 school board prompted the matter to be brought up at this week’s meeting. The board maintains that school zones are high-traffic areas where teachers and students walk and drive and buses drop kids off and pick them up.

Board members said that the district was not notified until after it had passed its school budget that the city would not pay for the crossing guards.

The board had considered appointing volunteers to serve as crossing guards, but the school district’s attorney advised against it for liability reasons.

Nichols said Presque Isle Police Chief Naldo Gagnon also attended this week’s meeting.

“The chief told the council that no complaints have been filed at the Police Department regarding the lack of crossing guards since the start of school,” she said Thursday.

Nichols added that Stevens would talk to SAD 1 Superintendent Gehrig Johnson about the issue next week.

“They [the council] want to come to some sort of agreement about this issue,” she said.

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