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Budget Cuts Could Leave Many Schools Without Traffic Guards : Safety: With classes about to start, districts in unincorporated areas are scrambling for volunteers or other solutions. 'It's an absolute fiasco,' one administrator says.

September 05, 1993|RICHARD WINTON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

THE REGION — With classes starting as early as Tuesday, the San Gabriel Valley's school districts are scrambling to protect students in unincorporated neighborhoods from an unanticipated problem that threatens to make walking to school more dangerous than ever.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors ended all funding for crossing guards in county areas in a budget-cutting move that attracted little attention in July.

Unless county supervisors ignore staff advice Tuesday and restore the $1.7 million funding cut, school districts will be forced to leave students unprotected or pay for crossing guards or use administrators and volunteers at well-traveled intersections.

Supervisors ended the funding after the state stopped mandating that the county pay for crossing guards. The decision will not affect crossing guards who work within city boundaries.

County officials say no crossing guards will be on duty when students in the unincorporated areas of Rowland Heights, Hacienda Heights and La Puente return to school Tuesday. In the days following, students in Altadena and scattered other incorporated areas will face the same problem.

"Because you're relieved of your civic duty it doesn't mean you let children be killed," said an angry Sharon Robison, superintendent of Rowland Unified School District.

Robison, who said the district cannot afford to pay for crossing guards, is working to find alternatives to the 14 guards the county pays for in the district.

"We have had budget cuts for four years. They have had cuts for two," she said. "We're not cut to the bone. We're into the bone."

The Hacienda La Puente Unified School District stands to lose 17 crossing guards.

The Pasadena Unified School District that serves seven schools in unincorporated Altadena will lose 10 crossing guards.

Other districts with schools in unincorporated areas stand to lose one to three crossing guards. Those are El Monte, Monrovia, Duarte, San Gabriel, Charter Oak, Bassett and Azusa. Most will temporarily use administrators and parents to protect children as they cross the heavy lanes of traffic.

The Azusa district, however, decided to pay for two guards to keep up the normal level of staffing at intersections, said Bill McIntire at the county Office of Education, which contracts with a company to provide the crossing guards.

A report Tuesday from the chief administrative officer to supervisors will recommend that school districts pay the full cost of the crossing guards, county sources said.

"There simply isn't any money," said Dorothea Park, a management analyst for the chief administrators's office. Park said there is not even enough money to finance a suggestion by Supervisor Michael Antonovich to have the county and schools share the cost.

Robert Alaniz, a deputy for Supervisor Gloria Molina, said his boss wants the issue resolved quickly and is also willing to support a split deal.

However, he said, there is a feeling that school districts can pick up the bill since they benefited from the state's property tax shift from the county. But school districts are not pleased with Antonovich's suggestion. Pasadena, for example, would have to pay about $75,000 under the plan.

"Where are we suppose to come up with the money? We've already budgeted for the year," said Supt. Vera Vignes. However, she said, if it comes to Sept. 14, the first day of school, the district will have no alternative but to pay for the crossing guards.

San Gabriel Unified's Supt. Gary Goodson said it is widely known that the supervisors will not change their minds. He said that when his schools go back into session Sept. 17, administrators and PTA members will help.

Hacienda La Puente Unified School District plans to use principals and assistant principals as an interim measure to cover some of 17 intersections guards usually cover when school begins Tuesday, said Assistant Supt. Joyce Craig.

"We can't afford the guards. Our budget is set and unlike the county we have not had any mandates removed," she said. The district, which cut $6.6 million in the last two years, would have to pay more than $100,000.

Monrovia Unified students going to Sante Fe Elementary School will be guided by administrators across the busy Myrtle and Longden avenues on Thursday, the first day of school. The district is trying to recruit parent volunteers to take over.

The 34 affected school districts were notified of the cutbacks Aug. 2 by the county Office of Education. However, school administrators say they have heard little since then and have had to rely on supervisors' offices to keep them up-to-date.

"It's an absolute fiasco," said Robison, of Rowland Unified, who was still investigating the matter at the end of last week. "I'm not sure I can put administrators and parents in the streets. It is a question of liability."

Times staff writer Howard Blume contributed to this story.

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