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As Dallas County Schools Winds Down, The Fate Of Crossing Guard Program Is Uncertain

Last month, the Dallas County Schools dissolution committee said it didn't have the money to continue the school crossing guard program. It wants the city of Dallas to take over. Dallas officials say they don't have the money for it either.

A battle is brewing in the city of Dallas over school crossing guards. It comes after the Dallas County Schools bus agency said it doesn’t have the money to continue paying for crossing guards past Jan. 31.

That means the city might have to take over the program and pay for it. City council members grilled city staff on Wednesday about the matter.

Who's in charge

Running the school crossing guard program in Dallas costs a lot of money: about 2.5 million through this school year. Next school year it will cost more than $5 million.

The city hadn’t budgeted for this. Now city leaders have a lot of questions. They aren’t sure they’re ready to take over the program.

Council members weren’t happy to learn the committee charged to dissolve Dallas County Schools wants to scrap the crossing guard program. Voters in November decided to get rid of the troubled school bus agency.

Councilman Dwayne Caraway wondered why the city of Dallas isn’t part of that committee.

“I think we should have a stronger seat at the table,” Caraway said. “I would ask that we figure out how we’re gonna get to the table since they’re making decisions that are impacting our citizens and our taxpayers and our general funds because we really don’t have the dollars.”

The city of Dallas recently sued the dissolution committee over the crossing guard matter.

Caraway says the Dallas school district – not the city – should oversee the program.

Deadline approaching

Under state law, cities with a population of more than 850,000 people are responsible for providing school crossing guards. In fact, Dallas once ran the crossing guard program before Dallas County Schools took it over. That’s when costs shot up.

Councilwoman Jennifer Staubach Gates asked city staff to find out how other large cities – like Houston and San Antonio – operate and pay for their crossing guard programs. She also wants the city to have more time to come up with a solution.

Council members also discussed a Child Safety Trust Fund. State law says fees collected for parking tickets and moving violations in school zones can go into that fund. And counties have the option of collecting a vehicle registration fee of $.50 to $1.50. Collin and Denton counties both assessed $1.50.

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, however, said commissioners don’t support imposing a new fee on car registrations.

With so many questions and debate over next steps, Gates said she wants the city to have more time to come up with a solution.

“Jan. 31 – for us to take all of the responsibility on – we’re not going to be able to get the revenue sources in place, and we’re also going to have an issue about on-boarding these employees.”

Mayor Mike Rawlings told the City Council that state Sen. Royce West of Dallas plans to get a group of county and local leaders together to discuss the crossing guard situation and issues related to the shutdown of Dallas County Schools.

Stella M. Chávez is KERA’s immigration/demographics reporter/blogger. Her journalism roots run deep: She spent a decade and a half in newspapers – including seven years at The Dallas Morning News, where she covered education and won the Livingston Award for National Reporting, which is given annually to the best journalists across the country under age 35.