AUSTIN (KXAN) — Travis County is exploring the possibility of ending its control over the school crossing guard program.
“It’s impossible to fill this type of work,” Donna Holt said with the Travis County Transportation and Natural Resources department, referring to the county’s school crossing guard program.
During a recent presentation to the Travis County Commissioners Court, Holt said the program is not sustainable.
The program’s leaders said it has had a difficult time recruiting and retaining school crossing guards for the 11 schools in the five Independent School Districts that depend on it over the last three years.
The county is responsible for 19 crosswalks and 29 crossing guard locations at the following schools:
- Hornsby Dunlap
- Presidential Meadows
- Shadow Glen
- Wells Branch
- Lake Point
- West Cypress Hills
- Laura Bush
- River Ridge
- Steiner Ranch
There are 32 guards at those schools. In Fiscal Year 2019, 19 school crossing guards resigned, and TNR was only able to hire 11 new guards. There are currently 10 vacancies. The Steiner Ranch elementary school is in most need of school crossing guards with five vacancies.
The biggest challenge, according to officials, is finding people who want to be a crossing guard in the far reaching western part of Travis County.
A memo from TNR to commissioners reads: “although development is occurring all over Travis County, the majority of the turnover is in western Travis County. Due to the location of the schools, the split shift of morning and afternoon, and the low number of hours worked, it has become increasingly difficult to recruit and retain.”
TNR took over the School Crossing Guard program in 1993 when commissioners voted to transfer control from the Travis County Sheriff’s office.
The program is funded through a $1.50 Child Safety Fee collected from Motor Vehicle Registration. Travis County chose to manage a school crossing guard program in an unincorporated area when children would be crossing a county roadway.
“Do we have to be in this business because of county roads? We don’t have to be in this business, right?,” asked a frustrated Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty.
“We do not,” responded a County Attorney at the meeting.
“Then, why in the world are we in this business? I mean, y’all can only do what you can do, you can’t do it,” Daugherty said.
Judge Sarah Eckhardt says commissioners will discuss the options with school districts.
“I think we all agree, we’ve done the best we can and it’s a really good effort,” Eckhardt said.
Eckhardt says the county has successfully protected many students with the program.
“Those successes can be picked up by schools themselves. This looks like a bad thing, it’s actually a good thing to partner with other entities. We will collect the money for them and partner with them,” Eckhardt said.
Commissioners can also vote to continue the program, but will need more money to fill the positions. Some of the previous efforts to recruit crossing guards include a pay raise to $15 an hour, offering more than a two-hour work day, a carpooling program with the county that provides a van to transport crossing guards to the designated schools and lowering the age to apply to 16 to get teenagers to work a morning shift before high school — none of these incentives have worked previously.
Commissioners are asked to make a decision before March 2020 to give school districts enough time to adjust to changes.