As the first day of the new school year approaches, seven crossing guard positions serving five elementary schools in the Lawrence school district remain unfilled. Construction projects near some buildings have compounded safety concerns.
The City of Lawrence is in charge of staffing school crosswalk locations. Elementary school boundaries were updated due to the school board’s vote in March to close Pinckney and Broken Arrow elementary schools.
As a result of the district’s boundary changes this year, the city is responsible for creating and staffing seven new “pilot crossing guard locations,” which are trial crosswalks based on where students are anticipated to cross to get to their new schools. The city on Tuesday announced it has been unable to fill the seven positions out of 18 total ahead of the upcoming school year, and it’s looking to hire applicants as quickly as possible.
Alex Landazuri, parent of a Cordley Elementary School student, said he received an email Tuesday from the school’s principal notifying families of the issue. Even though he and his wife are able to drive their kids to school, he said he’s worried about students walking or riding bikes across streets without crossing guards.
And he isn’t sure what the district’s plan is this late in the game, as school begins Thursday.
“I understand that the crossing guards come from the city, but it’s a partnership between the district and the city,” Landazuri said. “They’re coming through with this and they don’t have a plan, like, ‘Hey, we still have these openings, but here’s what we’re going to do in the meantime while we wait to get these positions filled.’ There was none of that.”
Crossing guard positions that were open as of 12:30 p.m. Wednesday, according to City of Lawrence Parking Supervisor Brad Harrell, who manages the school crossing guard program, include:
• Sixth Street and Folks Road, near Quail Run Elementary School;
• Sixth Street and Stoneridge Drive, near Langston Hughes Elementary School;
• Sixth and Michigan streets, near Hillcrest Elementary School;
• Ninth Street and Emery Road, near Hillcrest;
• 23rd and Louisiana streets, near Cordley;
• Iowa and Clinton Parkway/23rd Street, near Schwegler Elementary School; and
• Iowa and 27th streets, near Schwegler.
As of Wednesday morning, the city had received 19 applications for those positions, Harrell said. One applicant was in the onboarding process.
After a process between various city committees, including steps to collect and review public comments, the Lawrence City Commission on July 18 approved an additional $22,000 in funding needed for the seven additional pilot crossing guards on top of the $111,000 budgeted amount. Harrell said the city then posted the job on July 21.
Part-time crossing guards are paid $13.60 per hour. They typically work for up to an hour prior to the start of school and up to an hour after school dismisses, according to city spokesperson Cori Wallace. Crossing guards with perfect attendance earn a $100 annual bonus and an additional $100 bonus if they’re asked to return to the position the next year. Every year, they are paid for 10 of the days school is not in session, but winter and spring breaks as well as holidays are unpaid.
Julie Boyle, Lawrence school district spokesperson, said Wednesday that the district was helping to recruit applicants, but crossing guard staffing and management lies solely with the city.
Construction near schools
Construction projects around town have also raised concerns for students, especially if they use wheelchairs, or walk or ride bikes to and from school.
Inverness Drive construction is ongoing and expected to conclude this October, Harrell said; however, the city plans to open single lane thru traffic on Inverness Drive from Clinton Parkway to 27th Street by noon Saturday, Aug. 19.
Those who walk to Sunflower Elementary School or Southwest Middle School are asked to use the east side of Inverness Drive from Clinton Parkway to Sunflower Park Place, Harrell said. Using the roundabout located there, students can cross over Inverness Drive to reach those schools. Students approaching from east of 27th Street should travel north on Inverness Drive to the crossing guard at Sunflower Park Place roundabout. That crossing guard will be in place Thursday.
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Ninth Street construction is also ongoing, Harrell said, but the city anticipates allowing thru traffic on Ninth Street between Iowa Street and Emery Road by Thursday, Aug. 24. Hillcrest Elementary School community members have shared a new carpool route for families to use while construction proceeds, according to Harrell.
Drivers on northbound Highland Drive will also have the option to turn left onto Ninth Street to reach Iowa Street. Those walking to Hillcrest should approach the school from the south, utilizing Yale, Harvard, Iowa and the west side of Highland from Ninth to Harvard to reach the school.
“Unfortunately, our crossing guard positions for Hillcrest are not currently filled, so we will not have crossing guards in place tomorrow,” Harrell said via email.
Landazuri’s daughter previously attended Broken Arrow Elementary School, which is now closed as part of budget cuts. He said he feels the district and school board rushed into their decision to close schools, and the lack of fully staffed crossing guards going into the first day of school is a result of that.
“It’s their lack of preparation despite the fact they’ve always said, ‘We have the kids’ safety and well-being in mind. We want to make sure that they’re going to succeed.’ Clearly, that is not the case,” Landazuri said. “It’s not hard to look at these intersections, like 23rd and Louisiana, and really wonder how long is it going to take before a child gets hit crossing that street trying to get to school.”
Kristi Knox, parent of students at Southwest Middle School and Lawrence High School, expressed similar frustrations. After sending four kids through Sunflower Elementary and living in the area for more than 10 years, she’s become increasingly invested as the construction remains unfinished and could put kids in the area at risk.
“I really feel like this all could have been prevented with better foresight and planning by the city and school district,” Knox said. “It’s so upsetting and just exposes the flaws in each system.”
City job positions are listed at lawrenceks.org/jobs, and the application for a crossing guard position can be accessed by clicking on the school crossing guard position. Applications are solely accepted online, according to the city’s website.
As positions are filled, the city said it will communicate with the district and post updates to its “School Area Traffic Control & Crossing Guards” webpage, lawrenceks.org/school-traffic-control. More information, including safety information and a map of crossing guard locations, are also available on the webpage.
See new Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health’s Be Active Safe Routes maps for each elementary and middle school at this link.