After starting the school year on Tuesday with fewer crossing guards, River Forest Public School District 90 reported no major problems so far under a cost-cutting agreement with the village.
Superintendent Thomas Hagerman said some parents had expressed concerns about the reduction. He added that the district would monitor the situation this week and make changes accordingly at its three schools: Lincoln, Roosevelt and Willard.
"When you have something in place for a long time, it's a jolt to the system to not have that in place," Hagerman said. "I think, of course, everyone's concerned about the safety of their children - as are we. So that has to be at the forefront of everyone's minds."
Crossing guard duties for the district's nearly 1,300 students had long been handled by River Forest. But in June, the village informed the school district that it could no longer provide the service because of budget cuts.
Hagerman said it would have been too costly for the district to manage and insure the crossing guards. So the district and the village signed a one-year agreement under which the school system would reimburse River Forest for running the program.
"This was not an expense that we were expecting, and the village essentially told us that we had to pay for it or there would be no crossing guards," Hagerman said. "So my board thought that was an obligation that we needed to pick up and try to help the village out for one year."
The district cut the program's cost from about $86,000 to under $40,000. The savings were made by reducing the number of crossing guards from nine to six and eliminating the midday crossing guard shifts.
Hagerman said the shifts were for kindergartners arriving and leaving for the half-day sessions. He added that the district also reasoned that crossing guards would not be necessary because the children were usually escorted by their parents.
The district can handle the added expense this year partly because of attrition — the curriculum director is scheduled to retire. But it would have to find a more cost-effective method of dealing with the issue in the long-term, according to the school superintendent.
Crossing guards are a public safety issue that the village is best suited to handle, Hagerman said. The schools did not have policing powers, while the crossing guards fell under the village's public safety division and police could fill in for them when needed, he noted.
Hagerman said if the district could not work out a suitable long-term agreement with the village, it might consider hiring a private security firm. A second option is partnering with neighboring school districts such as Oak Park, which is also dealing with the issue.
"In terms of long-term cost to the district $40,000 to $50,000 a year - every year - is a lot of money," Hagerman said.
"So I don't know what the long-term outcome of that is going to be," he added. "But we've made it work for this year at least and then we'll have to see where things go after that."