An argument over who should pay for crossing guards outside of three Oak Park Catholic schools appears to be at a stalemate, with both sides unwilling to budge.
For years, Oak Park Village Hall has been providing help for kids to cross busy intersections across the community. But amid the Great Recession, the village pulled back, asking the schools, instead, to foot the bill.
Elementary school District 97 agreed in July to pay $168,000 to have a third-party service patrol 30 intersections near public schools. Oak Park was hoping to do the same with three private schools — Ascension, St. Edmund and St. Giles. But principals there say the request came in too late, as their budgets were already set by the archdiocese.
Village hall agreed to keep crossing guards at six intersections near private schools for the first 30 days of school, ending on Sept. 24. That offer was extended until Monday, with the expectation that the village board might decide the next step. But the discussion wasn’t scheduled, and Village Manager Tom Barwin says he plans to meet with the pastors of the three churches soon to try and reach some understanding.
Barwin hopes to find a compromise in the next three weeks.
“We were not able to come to a solution with the individual principals, so it’s been bumped up to my office and the pastors, who have a broader, I think, community-wide engagement mission,” Barwin said. “I’m confident that we will be able to work out a solution.”
The village has suggested volunteer guards, but the Catholic schools have been uninterested. Whatever the solution, it won’t involve village hall paying for the service in 2011, since Oak Park is not budgeting for the expense next year, Barwin said. The village is facing its own financial challenges, staring at a projected $1.7 million deficit, he added.
“We haven’t budgeted for any crossing guard positions in the fall, and I think all parties involved need some certainty for the winter,” Barwin said.
Oak Park is asking the schools to pay $6,500 a year per intersection for the service. One each is located near St. Giles and St. Edmund, while the other four are in the vicinity of Ascension, just north of Harrison Street on East Avenue.
Reached Monday, Ascension Principal Mary Jo Burns maintained that the school’s budget is “absolutely” set, they’re against using volunteers, and they believe that crossing guards are a public safety responsibility. She planned to meet with the school board Monday to discuss what to do if the village pulls the guards.
“I would say that we’re kind of at a standstill here,” Burns said.
Oak Parker and Ascension parent Lisa Reed encouraged the village board on Monday to find the $26,000 needed to fund crossing guards near the school. That money is nothing for an organization with a budget in the tens of millions, she argued.
“With our budget at Ascension, $26,000 is a pretty big issue,” she said.