The Mandate: General Municipal Law § 208-a authorizes cities, villages, towns, and county and district police departments to provide for school crossing guards to control vehicular traffic in order to protect children going to and from school. Because schools do not have any power to designate, authorize or appoint school crossing guards, the New York State Office of the State Comptroller has opined that "[a] school district may neither employ school crossing guards nor contribute to the expense borne by a [municipality] which employs them." See Opns St Comp, 1981 No. 81-31; see also 1959 N.Y. Op. Atty. Gen. No. 228.
Consequently, only local governments may hire, supervise, and pay for school crossing guards. However, it is unfair for cities, villages, towns, and county and district police departments alone to have to shoulder the financial burden of providing school crossing guards, the need for which is directly related to school operations.
This restriction on the ability of school districts to help pay for the expense of crossing guards places an unfair burden on city and village residents for two reasons. First, many school districts do not provide bus service to students living within a certain distance of a school. Thus, those residents living within that area pay school taxes which finance the busing of other students but not theirs. Second, even when schools provide bus service to all of its students, generally the cost of busing students from the densely populated cities and villages is less per student than busing students from the suburban and rural areas of the school district because the buses have to travel more miles per student transported. While busing is clearly an important service provided by school districts, if city and village residents are going to subsidize the busing of students from the suburbs and rural areas outside of the city or village, then the school district should assist in paying the salaries of the crossing guards who protect the safety of those children who walk to school, either because they want to or because the school does not provide busing because they live too close to the school.
The Cost: Although it is unknown exactly how much cities, villages, and towns pay for school crossing guards every year, conservative estimates put the dollar amount well into the millions of dollars. The following are the crossing guards expenses paid by just a handful of New York's local governments in a recent calendar year:
· The Village of Fairport - $22,500.
· The Village of Palmyra - $11,351 (the school does not provide busing transportation to 1st - 5th graders who live within ½ mile of their school or to 6th – 12th graders who live within 1 mile of their school).
· The Village of Lancaster - $51,000 plus $3,900 in FICA costs and $2,000 (on average) in unemployment costs during the time when school is not in session (schools are exempt from this unemployment cost due to their status as having 10-month employees, but municipalities are not exempt, even though crossing guards are needed only when schools are in session).
· The City of Beacon - $80,450 for the crossing guards and an addition $1,373 for highway department coverage and $1,955 for the Police Secretary's administrative services (the school does not provide busing transportation to students who live within 1.5 miles of their school).
· The Village of Garden City - $73,000 (This figure is salary only and does not include the cost to the Village in providing benefits).
· The Village of East Aurora - $26,744.
These five villages and one city spend over $265,000 every year in crossing guard expenses. It is easy to see that applying this figure to all of New York's municipalities results in New York's cities and villages having to shoulder millions of dollars in crossing guard expenses every year.
The Solution: General Municipal Law § 208-a should be amended to allow, but not require, school districts to contribute to crossing guards' salaries. The ability of local governments--cities, villages, towns, counties, and schools--to work together to provide services to their residents and to protect the public's health, safety, and welfare in a cost-effective manner is a key component to controlling property taxes while at the same time providing high-quality services. Thus, it is imperative that the State remove any barriers that impede intermunicipal cooperation.
A bill that would remove this legislative barrier was passed by both the New York State Senate and Assembly in 2008 but was subsequently vetoed by the Governor. Assembly Member John McDonald and Senator Elizabeth Little have reintroduced the legislation in the current legislative session (A. 2954-A (McDOnald)/S. 367-A (Little)).
This amendment to State law will remove this impediment to intermunicipal cooperation. It must be stressed that this legislation does not require schools to contribute to crossing guards' salaries. Rather, it merely allows them to do so if they so desire.