Parents want Council today to ensure crossing guards stay at schools where they’re known

By Gary Webb-Proctor, East York Chronicle June 19, 2019

A switch of responsibility for providing school crossing guards from police to the city’s transportation division, coming before Toronto City Council for approval today, should not result in long-serving guards not being guaranteed continued employment or being moved from where they’ve been stationed for years, hundreds of Leslieville parents and Councillor Paula Fletcher say.

The switch from Toronto Police Services to the city’s Transportation Servicesdivision is expected to result in more reliable service from better paid employees and a more professional approach to the job, according to a report from Barbara Gray, general manager of Transportation Services for the city.

But 767 Leslieville residents of Ward 14 say in a petition presented to Council yesterday by Ms. Fletcher that they are worried that the proposed changes carry no guarantee that existing guards will be retained in their present locations.

Noting that “none of the current crossing guards have been guaranteed positions for the September 2019 school year,” Fletcher read from the petition saying the residents “are concerned about the safety of our children,” and request “that the crossing guards employed under the current program be assured of the option of holding onto their current locations and their jobs and keep our streets safe.”

In a letter to Council on June 13 Fletcher expanded on that request, noting that existing guards are “familiar and friendly faces” to the children, “know the neighbourhood, the kids, the families and the roads” and have already passed all required police checks.

“Having continuity for parents, students. teachers and the crossing guards is important as we move to this new system,” she added.

The petition will be considered when the transfer of service item is dealt with at today’s council meeting.  The transfer proposal, endorsed by the city’s Infrastructure and Environment Committee on May 23, also recommends increasing pay for the job from $16 to $19 per hour; using GPS locators to ensure guards are where they are supposed to be; increasing the number of people supervising the program; paying standby fees to ensure backups are in place when guards call in sick or don’t show up; and providing better equipment, training, incentives and employee recognition for guards in hopes of improving performance and reliability.

The consistency issue came to light in East York last September when, as we reported at the timeGledhill Junior Public School students were without crossing guards at the busy Gledhill-Danforth intersection for several days when employees didn’t show up and a TPS system of providing backups was found to be unreliable.  Subsequently similar issues were raised with staffing arrangements at other intersections in the area and beyond.

(When a similar crisis arose in September of 1968, then newly elected Borough of East York Mayor True Davidson ended up conducting the children herself, as reported by Toronto Star at the time.)

While under both the existing and proposed new arrangement guards will actually be employed by private contractors, the City expects to play an oversight role in ensuring all runs smoothly.  Police would only be involved in future by conducting background checks on potential new employees, whereas under the system in which TPS ran the service it was expected to provide personnel to fill the gap when guards didn’t show up, which it wasn’t always able to do.

The proposed new enhanced service for 710 locations versus 601 supervised by TPS will come at an extra $15 million cost, however, as the budget for it would rise from $9.783 million paid through the TPS budget to $24.984 million from the city’s transportation services folio.

Although Transportation Services would have overall charge of the program, the committee’s recommendations being considered by Council today would also contract out, as of August 1, the actual provision of service to two private companies:  Carraway Inc.handling the South and East portions of the city for two years at a cost of $28.326 million; and A.S.P. Inc. covering the North and West zones for a cost of just over $19.675 million.

At the request of the committee, city staff has explored having cost-sharing arrangements with the Toronto District School Board and Toronto Catholic District School Board to reduced the extra expense.  But Ms. Gray’s report says the TCDSB has already advised “that the Board currently lacks the appropriate financial resources to enter into an immediate cost sharing arrangement for the program,” while TDSB is “still investigating the matter.”

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