First reported 6/18/2010 4:46 p.m.

The Village of River Forest said it will no longer pay for crossing guards, placing the $100,000 burden for school children’s safety on the schools themselves with little notice.

District 90 Superintendent Thomas Hagerman said Steve Gutierrez, River Forest’s outgoing village administrator, sent him a letter, dated June 11, saying that when summer school ends on July 9, the village will completely cut its funding for the guards.

The cuts stem from recommendations made by the village’s Citizen’s Advisory Committee on Village Finances, which recommended cutting the guards in its April 2010 report. Those recommendations – including the cuts – were incorporated into the village budget and then passed in April.

But Hagerman said he wasn’t notified of the change until he got Gutierrez’s letter last week.

“There’s been no communication with the village whatsoever,” he said. “To have not one phone call, not one e-mail was shocking.”

In an e-mail sent to Gutierrez, Hagerman wrote that the lack of communication was “highly unprofessional and unethical.”

Gutierrez said he thought the school board knew the money was being axed, and viewed his recent letter simply as a formality.

“I was told, essentially, that they had been talking about it,” Gutierrez told Wednesday Journal. “I really view this as a formality more than anything.”

However, Gutierrez declined to name his source, or their affiliation, and said he had not had any direct contacts with District 90 officials on the matter before his letter.

With only a few weeks to try to figure out how to keep the crosswalks guarded, Hagerman said the schools are now forced to scramble to figure something out.

“Had we had an opportunity to work together, we could have come up with some sort of creative solution, if we had a year or six months to talk about this,” Hagerman said. “The really difficult part is that we’ve had no time and now we’re in the middle of summer, trying to prepare for next year.”

The $100,000 crossing guard program would be “impossible for District 90 to absorb,” Hagerman wrote to Gutierrez.

He later backed off that statement in an interview with Wednesday Journal, but said it would be an extraordinary feat to find funding for the program at this late point.

River Forest Trustee Cathy Adduci said the village didn’t try to keep this secret by any means.

“I’m a bit shocked that Tom’s shocked, frankly,” Adduci said. “The fact that he’s surprised by it, that’s unfortunate – it was an open discussion that we’ve had at the board level. Should there have been more communication between the board and District 90? Maybe.”

One factor in the poor communications could have been River Forest’s depleted staff, Village Board President John Rigas said. While it likely wouldn’t have changed the village’s choice to end the program’s funding, it could have helped smooth the process out, he said.

“Clearly there are things falling through the cracks because of the situation that we have in village hall right now,” Rigas said. “I don’t know what would have changed, though. There wouldn’t have been a change in the answer by the village board because we’re the ones going broke.”

Gutierrez said he still believes District 90 knew about the cuts before this month, but regrets any love lost between the village and its schools.

“Hindsight’s always 20/20,” Gutierrez said. “We always want to have the best relations we can with the schools, and if this has caused angst or concern with the school districts, then absolutely we would have done it better if we could.”

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Ben Meyerson

Ben was Wednesday Journal's crime, parks, and River Forest reporter, until he kept bugging us enough to promote him. Now he's managing two of Wednesday Journal's sister papers in the city, Chicago Journal...