As Los Angeles Unified School District students returned to classes Tuesday, crossing guards and community activists packed the City Council chamber to express concern over a shortage of guards at nearly 170 intersections near schools.

Community activists said a study by the Fix LA Coalition found that a third of intersections near elementary schools that are eligible for crossing guards go unstaffed.

The Los Angeles Department of Transportation identified 507 eligible intersections near 307 elementary schools, but only 338 have regular crossing guards, the study found.

“Our city, with its misguided budgetary decisions, is leaving hundreds of thousands of children at risk every day,” said Cheryl Parisi, chairwoman of the Coalition of City Unions. “The city does not have its child safety priorities correct.”

Fix LA Coalition leaders said the city employs 363 crossing guards, compared to 576 guards in 2008 – a 37 percent decline. They called on city officials to restore positions eliminated during the recession and recommended placing guards at busy intersections near all elementary and middle schools.

LAUSD Board Member Steve Zimmer said student safety was just as important as the school district’s campaign to increase graduation rates this year.

“In order to get to the graduation stage, you must first safely cross the street to get to the school,” Zimmer said. “If we have a city and a community that cannot invest in safe passages, we don’t get to scream about the graduation crisis.”

City crossing guards earn an average of $13,500 per year and work an average of four hours per day on split shifts, according to the Fix LA study. Crossing guard advocates said based on that figure, the city could restore crossing guard staffing to 2008 levels at a cost of about $3 million per year.

Parisi said the city was cutting a split-shift incentive in which crossing guards are paid for for a two-hour break between morning and afternoon duties. She said eliminating the incentive threatens recruitment and is unfair to the guards.

“This program is essential to recruit and retain our crossing guards,” Parisi said. “Instead of continuing to cut our crossing guard program, we should continue to invest in it.”

In February, Marleni Barrera, 42, was fatally struck as she walked her 9-year-old to Citizens of the World Charter School in Hollywood. Fix LA said the intersection where Barrera died qualified for a crossing guard but did not have one. Since the accident, the city has added a crossing guard.

“There have been too many accidents, too many deaths,” Parisi said. “The need for crossing guards has not declined. It has increased.”

LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy marked the new school year by visiting a series of campuses to welcome new principals, greet students and tour school construction sites.

School board members Monica Ratliff and Bennett Kayser and California Attorney General Kamala Harris also stopped by various schools.

During his annual address to school administrators on Aug. 5, Deasy said improving graduation rates is a top priority this school year, calling on teachers to individually reach out to students in need. Deasy said the district will also focus on graduating students to be college- and career-ready.

Meanwhile, the school district and United Teachers Los Angeles, the union that represents the district’s teachers, have failed to settle on issues such as salary, staffing and class size reduction, UTLA representatives said after a recent bargaining session.

UTLA is requesting a 17.6 percent raise for teachers while the district is offering a 2 percent one-time bonus for the completed 2013-2014 school year and a 2 percent raise for the current school year. The next bargaining session is scheduled for Aug. 21, nine days after classes begin.

By City News Service on Aug 12, 2014.