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BY DUSICA SUE MALESEVIC and YANNIC RACK | Lower Manhattan schools, which desperately need more crossing guards, so far have been shut out of a $1.14 million fund to hire more guards.
“The problem is just out of our hands, it comes down to money,” Det. Rick Lee, a community affairs officer, said at the First Precinct Community Council Meeting Sept. 24.
“The city gets X amount of dollars for crossing guards a year, so we have our full [number of] crossing guards,” he said. “We need new crossing guards but as far as budgetary reasons go, we have enough crossing guards. Until they allocate more money so that we can hire more crossing guards, there’s nothing we can do.”
Each N.Y.P.D. precinct manages the guards in its area and the new City Council money allows for 80 more to be hired around the city.
Within the boundaries of the First Precinct, there are four assigned crossing guard locations. One of which is on MacDougal and West Houston Sts. Another is at Chambers and Greenwich Sts. near P.S. 234 in Tribeca. The other two are in Battery Park City: Battery Place and First Place near P.S./I.S. 276 and Chambers/Warren Sts. and West St. near P.S. 89/I.S. 289.
The N.Y.P.D. did not respond to questions about whether the First Precinct had reached its budgetary limit for crossing guards or where the new positions are located.
A police spokesperson said in an email last week, “Crossing guards are assigned citywide based on the trends and needs of the department.”
Both Spruce Street School and the newly opened Peck Slip School, also known as P.S. 343, do not have a crossing guard. While P.S./I.S. 276 and P.S. 89/I.S. 289 do have an assigned crossing guard each, additional guards are necessary for the dangerous intersections, according to parents, Community Board 1 and the First Precinct.
During Tuesday morning drop-off at P.S. 89, Ankur Dhawan, who has a child in kindergarten there, said that another crossing guard is needed. Many children have to cross busy West St., also known as the West Side Highway and Route 9A, to get to school.
“The fact is that this place, in terms of traffic, has maybe quadrupled because of the World Trade Center, the [9/11] Memorial, Brookfield Place — it’s the law of averages, as you get more people, you will get more drivers and some of them will be a little less careful than others,” Dhawan said.
Tricia Joyce, chairperson of Community Board 1’s Youth and Education Committee, was also taking her sixth-grade daughter to school.
“I don’t feel comfortable crossing this street,” said Joyce. “There needs to be two here, so that they can coordinate and step into the street when the light turns. The danger here is the left turns, and there have been accidents. The school tells the kids to cross on the [pedestrian] bridge, but for families coming from the south, that’s out of their way. We have more traffic now coming across this intersection, and therefore they need one on both sides.”
Since Zaida Martinez, the P.S. 89/I.S. 289 crossing guard, can’t be in two places, she splits her time between the two busy streets. She is at West and Warren Sts. for morning drop-off and at West and Chambers Sts. for pickup.
Near Spruce Street School, a K-6 this year, there have been two incidents on Beekman St., which has large construction projects — beloved U.P.S. worker Mike Rogalle was fatally struck three years ago, and more recently in April, a mother of two, Heather Hensl, was hit and seriously injured on her way to work when a driver used the sidewalk to bypass traffic. The hit and run happened during the school’s morning drop-off.
“We need crossing guards on Beekman and William,” Sarah Elbatanouny, co-president of Spruce’s P.T.A., said in a phone interview. “There’s heavy traffic….We now have a middle school, the kids are walking by themselves. On Beekman, we have the hospital and we have the fire department there, a lot of them use the sidewalks. So it’s a heavily congested area, there’s a lot happening there.”
Paul Hovitz, co-chairperson of C.B.1’s Education Committee, said crossing guards for Downtown schools have been a concern for some time now.
Initially, the community was told the problem was a dearth of applicants because of how much the job paid and its part-time nature, Hovitz said. Crossing guards have only recently been bumped up to $11.50 an hour and can work a maximum of 25 hours a week. During the summer, many lose their benefits.
“First, we’re hearing that there are not enough applicants, then we’re hearing there are plenty of applicants, but there’s some bureaucratic problem with process,” Hovitz said in a phone interview. “All along, since we were concerned about having crossing guards, even before Peck Slip [opened], we were told, well, the issue is not that there isn’t money, but that there aren’t applicants for the job.”
Lee, the community affairs detective, said the precinct has found qualified people to hire in response to community concern and the opening of Peck Slip School.
“We got numerous applications,” he said. “We submit those applications, and once we submit those applications it goes to police headquarters and it’s up to them to hire them, so again it comes down to the budget.”
Assemblymember Sheldon Silver has applied for a $225,000 grant from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation to pay for six crossing guards — two each at Peck Slip School, Spruce Street School and P.S. 276. The L.M.D.C. is currently considering applications to divvy up $50 million.
“To get to the Peck Slip School, the Spruce Street School and P.S. 276, you must cross some of the busiest streets in Lower Manhattan,’’ Silver said in a statement to Downtown Express last week.
“There are urgent safety issues facing children and parents who need to get to these schools,” he said. “While the N.Y.P.D. supports the need for additional crossing guards for our local schools, they have not been able to allocate the funds needed for these crossing guards. With the safety of local children and parents at stake, I believe that L.M.D.C. funding of this immediate need makes sense and should be provided.”
However, even if the L.M.D.C. chooses Silver’s application, it is not clear when the money would be available. David Emil, L.M.D.C’s president, explained in a phone interview that there are several steps involved in the process. With the caveat that there are no guarantees, he said the money could be available in the first half of next year.
Councilmember Margaret Chin said in an email statement Monday that she “will continue to work with the N.Y.P.D. and my Council colleagues to make sure that there are adequate resources for crossing guards at schools throughout Lower Manhattan — including at the recently opened Peck Slip School.”
Meanwhile, Andrew Fenwick, who has a daughter in fifth grade at Spruce, said, “Lack of crossing guards now could lead to another tragedy.”