In what was presented as an effort to trim the village budget, Villager Manager Tom Barwin and his staff informed leaders of local schools in June that the Village of Oak Park would no longer assume the costs associated with providing crossing guards to protect children on their walks to and from school [Oak Park Catholic schools asked to cough up cash for crossing guards, News, Aug. 25].
District 97 was able to absorb this unexpected expense into its annual budget, thereby ensuring that the children who attend our public elementary schools will continue to have guards assist them as they cross some very busy Oak Park intersections. Our local Catholic schools have not been able to do the same. So, where does that leave these children?
It seems to me that providing crossing guards to guarantee children are able to safely navigate our community is a public safety issue. Oak Park tax dollars are designed, in part, to provide residents with basic public safety measures. At Ascension, over 330 of the 481 enrolled students are Oak Park residents whose parents or guardians, presumably, pay taxes. Many of these students cross very busy intersections, particularly during morning rush hour.
The village provides crossing guards for many events in our community that draw large crowds of people on a regular basis. Village officials know that the walks to school draw similarly large crowds. What is the difference? The only difference I can discern is that our students do not generate revenue for the village by walking to school. Are they, thus, not entitled to safe passage?
Village officials have suggested that Ascension and the other Catholic schools solve this safety dilemma by using volunteers to cross students at the affected intersections. Surely, village officials know that the use of volunteers would raise many concerns about liability. Can you imagine what would happen if a student were injured while a "volunteer" crossing guard was on duty?
It seems unreasonable to expect volunteers who have no formal authority to control traffic and no experience handling the types of emergency situations that may arise while acting as crossing guards to assume this role.
The Village of Oak Park's 2010 annual budget was in excess of $90 million. The expense of providing crossing guards at Ascension School ($26,000) would be about .028 percent of this annual budget. I would hope that after a thorough review of the village budget, the safety of our children would be deemed more valuable than this potential "savings" to the village. So far, that doesn't seem to be the case.
Since the opening of school on Aug. 24, the village has provided crossing guards to the Catholic schools on a temporary basis while Mr. Barwin and the Catholic school principals have attempted to resolve the issue. This provision of services is slated to expire on Oct. 4, at which time the crossing guard issue will go before the entire village board [Editor's note: The village board did not discuss crossing guards Oct. 4, and the expiration date was shifted further out].
It is my hope that the elected leadership of our village will ultimately conclude that all the children in our community are worth protecting regardless of the school they choose to attend.
Wendy Schmiedeler is an Oak Park resident and Ascension School parent.