NORTHFIELD — While students and a few parents may have shed some tears with the start of the new and very different school year, the concerns over crossing guard shortages did not affect the return to the Northfield Community School.
“All of the posts were covered by the crossing guards on the first day of school and the department did not have to deploy any officers to cover the 13 established posts,” Northfield Police Chief Paul Newman said.
District Superintendent Pedro Bretones agreed that the first day back to the school in six months was positive all the way around. "It was great to see our school filled with children, as it should be. Our teachers, administrators and staff were overjoyed to see the children and did a great job of making it a wonderful first day for them,” he said.
The City Council and the School District had been at odds over the staggered start and dismissal times at the school and the number of hours those new times would necessitate school crossing guards to be at their posts in the all-walking district.
City Council comments came to a head at the Sept. 1 council meeting. Councilman Brian Smith said the new start and dismissal times would require 71.5 crossing guard hours per day, up from the anticipated and budgeted 26 hours daily. The increased number of hours crossing guards would need to be on duty would incur nearly $140,000 beyond what the city budgeted for. According to state COVID-19 protocols, classrooms are required to be cleaned between morning and afternoon hybrid sessions. The staggered times allow for classroom and high touch areas to be sanitized before the afternoon session students arrive.
Mayor Erland Chau said the city is committed to the safety of the Northfield students, but he added that he would like the school district to help pick up the tab for the additional crossing guard hours. “I informed Northfield Community School Superintendent Pete Bretones that he had to instruct Police Chief Newman to cover posts first with crossing guards and if they cannot be fully manned with crossing guards then use substitutes, followed by Class II officers and finally with police officers. Chief Newman will utilize established protocol to collect data on several posts to determine if they are needed. This is based on the recommendation of possibly consolidating some of the crossing guard posts.”
Chau went on to say, “I will be meeting with school officials to discuss how much money they are willing to allocate to the cost of having the additional shift. At one of our meetings the superintendent offered to reimburse the city to help cover the cost,” said Chau. “We are still seeking part-time substitute crossing guards. The city must meet and negotiate with union representatives on the new working conditions.”
Bretones said the school district will be discussing through committee how to address the increased cost of the guards. “Splitting the cost had previously been discussed with Mayor Chau, but we were never able to get a firm answer as to what the actual cost would be. I’m hopeful that we will be able to work together on this,” Bretones said.
Crossing guards are hired through the Northfield Police Department and they belong to the union, so any changes in their hours or their status need to get the blessing of the union.
Newman said the Police Department is already studying and doing traffic counts at the Wabash Avenue-Merrit Drive post and the Wabash and Cedarbridge avenue posts along with Shore Road and Yorkshire Drive. “I am not considering any other locations at this time due to the nature of the roadways because of the traffic volume, the fact that they are state/county roads, and the higher speed limits on those roads,” Newman said. The chief said it will be several weeks before the data is collected on whether they can eliminate or consolidate the three crossing guard posts.