TAMPA — After two students were struck and injured by cars last spring crossing the street at the middle schools they attended, local leaders promised action.
Now, with the start of the fall semester on Monday, they're gradually delivering on their pledge.
Thirty-six additional crossing guards will hit the streets to protect students, and sheriff's deputies will step up their patrols until another 55 can be hired. The move expands a program once limited to elementary schools, placing guards for the first time at middle schools in the Hillsborough School District and adding more guards at about a dozen elementary schools.
When the students were struck, at Barrington Middle School in February and at Randall Middle School in April, it brought to a head growing concerns about a cost-cutting move that had eliminated school bus transportation for about 7,500 students who live within a two-mile radius of their school.
"This is all about the safety of our kids in Hillsborough County," county commissioner Stacy White said at a news conference Monday.
In April, acting on a proposal by White, the County Commission agreed to spend $1 million per year to help fund the middle school expansion — the first of its kind in Florida.
A study conducted over three days examined cars, pedestrians, sidewalks and traffic patterns around Hillsborough County schools and determined that guards were only necessary at 35 of the school district's 43 public middle schools while additional guards were needed at 11 elementary schools, Sheriff Chad Chronister said at the news conference.
The Sheriff's Office, which manages the crossing guards program, worked with parents, community leaders and the school district to determine where to put the guards and will continue to evaluate locations.
"Parents will have confidence that students can walk safely through and from school," Chronister said. "We don't ever want a child's life or safety to be in danger and we'll do everything we can to reduce the likelihood of that child getting hurt." The new program calls for about 91 additional crossing guards. That's fewer than the 141 new positions announced at the time of the County Commission vote in April, in part because of the study results. Before, there were about 200 crossing guards working at district schools.
Deputies will fill the gap, Chronister said, as the Sheriff's Office looks to hire the additional 55 guards. Two recuitment events are planned, on Thursday at the Hillsborough Community College Southshore campus and on Saturday at Leto High School.
A crossing guard is paid $11.86 an hour for a work week of about ten hours. Applicants must pass background checks. Many of the applicants so far have been retirees, Chronister said.
He expects the program will cost $1.2 million a year, he said — less than the $2 million he originally anticipated. The Sheriff's Office is also helping fund the program.
Chronister said he initially thought it would take three years to fully staff the program, but it's happening sooner.
As a parent, White said, he learned that crossing guards do more than keep traffic at bay. They serve a teaching role. "Kids are learning things from these crossing guards, as well," he said. "They're learning to put the device down, take the earbuds out, look both ways, look for oncoming traffic. We have that teaching, as well, so we have kids that grow into adults as safe pedestrians."
New crossing guards by school
Middle schools: Adams (5), Barrington (4), Ben Hill (6), Benito (2), Buchanan (2), Burnett (1), Burns (1), Coleman (2), Davidsen (2), Dowdell (1), Eisenhower (2), Farnell (5), Giunta (2), Greco (1), Jennings (1), Liberty (1), Madison (2), Mann (3), Marshall (1), Martinez (2), McLane (1), Memorial (2), Monroe (2), Mulrennan (3), Orange Grove (1), Pierce (1), Randall (3), Rodgers (2), Rampello (1), Sligh (2), Sgt. Smith (1), Stewart (2), Tomlin (3), Turkey Creek (2), Webb (2), Wilson (2), Young (2).
Elementary schools: Ballast Point (1), Bryant (2), Dawson (2), McFarlane Park (2), Muller (1), Oak Grove (2), Oak Park (1), Riverhills (1), Grady (1), Roosevelt (2), Thompson (1)
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