By Terry Dean
The Oak Park Elementary School District 97 will likely pick up the tab for crossing guards for another school year, but not for a school resource officer (SRO) who had been splitting time at the two middle schools.
The D97 school board discussed, but did not take action June 14, on funding crossing guards. A vote will take place at an upcoming meeting. The district and the Village of Oak Park agreed last year that D97 would pay for the guards but not the SRO. Under that agreement, the village would oversee crossing guards and provide a resource officer for Brooks and Julian middle schools. But the two sides spent much time going back and forth on who should pay for what.
The village historically funded guards and SROs, but sought to shift that responsibility to both the public and private school districts, citing its own budget issues. D97, though, balked at the idea, insisting that patrolling streets, including around the schools, is the village's responsibility.
At last week's school board meeting, D97 Supt. Albert Roberts recommended continuing to pay for crossing guards for one school year, but not the SRO.
Last year's cost for D97 was about $168,000, covering salary and benefits for 34 crossing guards. The village has asked for a 1-percent salary increase this year, bringing the total to just under $170,000. Aurora-based Andy Frain Services was hired last year to provide guards and one supervisor at intersections near all 10 school buildings.
The village has also asked for an additional supervisor for the upcoming school year that D97 would also cover. The current agreement was for one year and is set to expire.
Roberts said he informed Village Manager Tom Barwin that the two sides had no agreement concerning D97 funding an SRO, and therefore they shouldn't expect payment.
"This service is, in my way of thinking, a public-safety issue and puts it more of a village responsibility than a school responsibility, as does the SRO," Roberts said, "but the village and schools have cooperated well in terms of working together to save each other some dollars."
"One needs to balance how much support we can provide in tough economic times, just as they have to look at what they can afford to share with us," Roberts added. "But I've already indicated that in absence of an intergovernmental agreement for SROs, they could expect no remuneration from us, respectfully. Again, we have worked well together but business is business sometimes."
In terms of training and providing a replacement guard when needed, Roberts said he also expected the village to oversee that.
School board members expressed support for his recommendation. As standard practice, the board does not take action at the same meeting where a proposal or recommendation is initially made.
Board member Robert Spatz agreed with the recommendation but added that this particular issue warrants some kind of shared-services committee among all of the taxing bodies.
"For both last year and this year, it's taken far too much time to get the right people in the room to resolve what is relatively minor," Spatz said. "We share too many things with the park district, the village and the high school, and we need to have a more standardized procedure for dealing with some of these things."
Denise Sacks, a newly-elected board member, said she was open to the district paying for crossing guards, and suggested that there be a governing philosophy around a shared-service committee that funds what and why. But veteran school board member Peter Traczyk recalled that the administration looked last year at other school districts in the state and found that many did not pay for guards.