Roseann Casazza, president of the Arlington Traffic Supervisors union, carried a sign at the selectmen's meeting Monday protesting the planned layoffs of crossing guards by the school department.
Crossing guards in Arlington are appealing to selectmen for help after the School Committee decided to lay off all traffic supervisors because of budgetary concerns.
“They are just putting the kids’ lives in danger doing this,” said Roseann Casazza, who is president of the Arlington Traffic Supervisors.
Casazza joined many of the traffic supervisors, who wore their reflective yellow jackets to the Board of Selectmen meeting Monday and argued that if the school department won’t pay for traffic supervisors, the town should.
The traffic supervisors are asking the board to support an article on the warrant for the Annual Town Meeting that would appropriate money from the police department budget to pay 34 part-time traffic supervisors.
The school department expects to save more than $200,000 by laying off the workers in the upcoming school year.
Town Manager Brian Sullivan said he thinks the School Committee should “re-think” its decision to lay off the traffic supervisors.
“I disagree with the decision,” Sullivan said. “I do believe they play a very important role.”
But Sullivan said cuts are already being made in the police department, and the town has also transferred $450,000 to the school department to help offset a multi-million budget deficit.
“I don’t think it’s fair to ask the town to give up more funds to address the issue,” he said.
Arlington’s School Committee last month adopted a baseline budget that will cut dozens of teachers, as well as the crossing guards. The school department will also hike a number of fees in an effort to cover a projected budget deficit of more than $4 million.
Superintendent of Schools Kathleen Bodie said she values what the traffic supervisors do, and she does have concerns about the affect the layoffs will have, especially at some of the busier intersections.
But Bodie said cuts are being spread across the district, with between 41-46 teaching and guidance counselor positions being eliminated. Arlington is also cutting some custodians, secretarial support staff and teaching assistants, she said.
“We just have a huge budget gap that we need to make up,” she said.
Without any traffic supervisors, Bodie said the responsibility of getting children safely to school is going to fall more with families.
“Parents are going to need to walk their children more,” she said.
Bodie said the school district will be developing a list of positions the district should add back if more money becomes available, and everything that has been cut will be considered.
Martha Scott, a traffic supervisor who works at the intersection of Park Avenue Extension and Summer Street near the Peirce Elementary School, said many of her co-workers develop relationships with the children they help across the street. Scott said if a child’s shoe comes untied, they tie it, and if one of the kids is upset about forgetting his or her lunch, they will call their parents.
“We get to know the children by their names,” Scott said.
Casazza said it is not a good time to cut the traffic supervisors, especially with the number of motorists who are distracted by cell phones and text messages while they are behind the wheel.
“Eventually something will horribly go wrong,” she said.
Selectman Jack Hurd said it’s unfortunate that a safety issue is being compared with an education issue.
“The safety of kids crossing is paramount,” Hurd said.
But selectmen decided to table a decision on whether to support the warrant article that would fund traffic supervisors through the police department instead of the school department.
Selectmen Chairman Diane Mahon said she will urge the School Committee to reconsider the layoffs, and request that the committee look into using some of the money the town transferred to the school department to pay for the traffic supervisors.
Sullivan said he also plans to send a request that some, if not all of the traffic supervisors should be retained.
“There’s a number of them that are crucial,” he said.