Who will pay the Willow Elementary school crossing guards?

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After a failed attempt to recruit volunteers, the East Penn School District turns to the Township of Lower Macungie for help paying school crossing guards at Willow Lane Elementary.

The district will submit a proposal to the township, requesting funding for half the cost of employing a dozen elementary school crossing guards.

The Township of Lower Macungie had operated the crossing guard program at Willow Lane since 2013 and shared the costs equally with the district. But the township recently refused to run or fund the program after repeatedly asking the district to support crossing guards since 2019.

“Unfortunately, it has become apparent that our township is not the appropriate host for this administrative and educational support program,” Township Superintendent Bruce Beitel said Tuesday.

In response, the district attempted to recruit volunteer crossing guards for five intersections around the school. But Superintendent Kristen Campbell said the district has received minimal interest.

“This attempt to facilitate the volunteer program was really about fairly looking at school crossing guard programs across the school district,” she said.

The other three district elementary schools with walking students have volunteer crossing guard programs facilitated by the Alburtis Police Department or Emmaus.

At Willow Lane, about 150 elementary school students can walk; approximately 50 to 70 students used the school crossing guard program each day last year.

Rebecca Brown, a parent in the district whose children walk to Willow Lane, said the streets around the elementary school are particularly dangerous because many drivers do not obey the speed limit. She also said there is often heavy traffic of cars traveling to and from nearby Mack trucks, making a school crossing guard program essential.

“Other schools are nestled in communities, while [Willow Lane] is in the middle of the main roads,” she said.

The Fogelsville State Police Station has received speeding complaints in the vicinity of Willow Lane Elementary, according to Private Nathan Branosky, a state police spokesman.

“Soldiers have aggressively patrolled and reinforced the area around Sauerkraut Lane before, during and after school hours and will continue to proactively enforce the area, particularly as students return to school,” said Branosky in a statement.

In 2021, the school crossing guard program at Willow Lane cost over $71,000. The district and township spent approximately $36,000 on the program. However, the district and township have not signed a formal agreement on the shared program since its inception in 2013.

In addition to partially funding the program, Beitel said the township is responsible for administrative and personnel matters of the program, such as guard training and payroll management. The township was also responsible for any legal liability arising from the operation of the school crossing guards.

Beitel said the township informed the district that it wanted to “transfer the program” to the district about 10 times since 2019. In 2020, the township attorney told the district that the township would no longer share the cost of the program .

However, the township continued to administer the program during the height of the pandemic in “good faith,” Beitel said. But when the East Penn School Board filed a discussion of the school crossing guard program in August 2021, the township “had to move forward with ending participation in the program due to this lack of response,” said said Beitel.

Gary Andrews, school crossing guard since 2013, helped students cross the intersection of Willow and Sauerkraut lanes. He said he had not heard from the township about the status of his work.

At the end of the school year, the township told school crossing guards that there might be a change in the administration of the program, but Andrews said he had not received any updates from the township or the school district.

“We knew that the school board was looking for volunteers to replace us. They announced it on their website and then on Facebook, so it was no secret,” he said. “We’re just waiting to see how the talks between the school district and the township go, like everyone else.”

Lower Macungie Township Commissioner Brian Higgins said the township does not have the staff or the capacity to continue its administrative duties. But he would welcome the township continuing to fund the program if the district comes up with a fair proposal, he said. The majority of the township commissioners should agree.

“We want to provide what we can for our residents,” Higgins said.

The district’s proposal will ask the township’s board of commissioners to consider funding half of the school crossing guard program, Campbell said. If the township does not accept the proposal, the district will continue the program with the $36,000 already allocated in the district’s 2022-23 budget and hire fewer wardens.

“Ideally, the township will consider and act favorably on our request to continue to cost share the program, and in that case we would certainly be able to hire and support the same number of guards,” Campbell said.

The district will post school guard jobs for anyone to apply, Campbell said, but she would be interested in hiring guards who have worked at the school before.

As a school crossing guard, Andrews said he had befriended families at the school over the years, watching students progress through Willow Lane and transition to middle school. He’s not sure if he’ll apply for a school crossing guard position once the district puts out a call for applicants, but he thinks the position is important.

“The bottom line in all of this is to get people, mainly children, to cross the street safely to school,” Andrews said. “I’m sure that’s what everyone wants.”

Morning Call reporter Jenny Roberts can be reached at 484-903-1732 and [email protected].

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