When it was announced just over a month ago that Mayor Eric Adams and the NYPD would be cutting almost 500 of the city’s school crossing guard positions, the reaction among some of Brooklyn’s school communities was one of dismay and concern.
Locals said they were already disappointed that not enough crossing guards were being hired, and the cuts appeared to eliminate additional hiring opportunities. But there was also concern over how school communities would be protected from the many speeding drivers and busy streets throughout the borough.
“It’s very disappointing,” said Tracy Jordan, a Flatbush parent and a member of Community Education Council in school district 22. “It’s as if the safety of our children is not at the forefront of this administration.”
Educators, parents, and other safe street advocates said school crossing guards comfort young families as they cross many of Brooklyn’s busy streets to get to school and provide a sense of community at their schools.
But these same Brooklynites also see these job cuts as a sign that crossing guards do not get the respect they should, while children’s safety is not of much importance to the city.
“The crossing guards play such an important role,” said Kathy Park Price, an organizer with the advocacy organization Transportation Alternatives. “Especially when we don’t have the design and infrastructure that we should have all around our schools. It’s a shame that school crossing guards are not fully funded … it’s a shame that we’re pulling back at the city and not prioritizing the safety of families and children and school communities.”
Oluwaseun Salako, the outgoing president of CEC22, who lives on the border of Midwood and Kensington, is disappointed by the decision to cut back on the school crossing guard jobs. Back in March, the CEC held a virtual meeting about how there are too few school crossing guards. Salako said the cuts are further exacerbating the issue.
“There used to be two guards, but one retired and was never replaced,” he said of P.S. 217, the school his children attend. “It’s now one person to use their judgment alone. It’s concerning [because] there’s more traffic and kids get frightened because the cars are too close.”
According to Alexa Sledge, Associate Director of Communications at Transportation Alternatives, nearly 30 Brooklynites under the age of 17 have died in traffic accidents since 2014.
Currently, there are 2,219 crossing guards actively working across New York City. The plan to cut the 483 jobs is meant to save about $7.5 million for the NYPD’s budget. According to the NYPD’s website, the position is part-time, 20 hours a week, pays $16.88 per hour, and offers benefits.
“Guards don’t only serve children,” Salako said. “But whole communities. They’re our eyes on the street. They recognize repeat offenders and reckless drivers.”
Shaun Francois, the President of the Board of Education Employees Local 372, said he has been fighting for recruitment since 2014, back when there were over 3,000 crossing guards.
Recruiting declined during the COVID-19 pandemic and vaccine mandates, but Local 372 kept working on recruiting new crossing guards. The budget cuts have him furious, he said, adding that the city budget is targeting those who make lower salaries, who often are from Black and Brown communities.
“It’s all bureaucracy problems,” Francois said. “And it always boils down to the lowest paid workers. I don’t like the way it seems to be going. I think the NYPD needs to be more respectful, and they need to understand how to budget themselves without [being] on the backs of the school crossing guards.”
Although Francois believes there are people out there looking to be school crossing guards, Salako believes the low payment is what keeps people away.
“The pay is not very good,” he said. “With those limited hours, there should be high pay. And make the job more attractive. There should be perks, such as free breakfast and lunch.”
Although many Brooklynites see the benefits of having school crossing guards helping school staff and students cross the streets, some believe there needs to be more than just someone on a corner helping others cross, while dodging cars, being harassed by drivers, and being outdoors regardless of what the weather is.
Chris Roberti is one of them. The Greenpoint parent chairs the PTA Safe Streets Committee at P.S. 110, a school that has seen its fair share of traffic accidents turn tragic. A popular teacher at the school, Matthew Jensen, was killed by a hit-and-run in 2021, and last month, a cyclist named Teddy Orzechowski died three weeks after being hit by a car right near P.S. 110, during after-school hours where no crossing guard was on staff.
Roberti explains that truck drivers use Driggs Avenue and Monitor Street, even though they are not truck routes and are close to the school. These drivers often get off the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, go down Driggs Avenue, and then get back on the BQE, simply because it’s a faster route.
Such driving makes Roberti believe new street designs are necessary — even small ones, like installing “grit tape” on roads to signal to drivers they’re entering a school zone.
“The grit tape feels kind of sandy,” Roberti says. “What I’d love for this for our school is every school has a footprint of just different space, something is happening here. That seems to be a pretty low, low-impact thing to do. It would let people know that this is not a fast street.”
Park Price agreed, and said the city should fix the infrastructure and design of city streets and install measures like speed cameras.
“Many schools have closed off streets around their schools to traffic in order to prioritize the safe arrival and dismissal, and safe outdoor learning spaces for their school,” she said. “The vicinity of the school is one-way safety through design.”
Salako would like to see more traffic lights installed because it would make more drivers be forced to stop, while Jordan thinks coloring the streets would be helpful but may not be enough to secure school areas. She would also like to see more school-zone speed cameras, especially before school hours.
An NYPD spox told Brooklyn Paper there were 600 vacant part-time crossing guard positions prior to the budget cut — and that the cut reduced the number of open positions by 483, leaving 117 vacancies.
“But that budgetary maneuver did not amount to layoffs, as no active positions were eliminated,” the spox said. “Vacancies are fluid in fiscal planning, and the NYPD remains committed to actively recruiting and hiring additional School Crossing Guards, up to the authorized headcount. Remember, the NYPD works every day to best manage the budget and the operational needs of its public safety mission.”
Although the 483 jobs are being cut from the NYPD budget, some are hopeful that their schools will see more crossing guards.
“We used to have more crossing guards, including one at Whitwell and Carroll and Denton and First Street,” said Kathleen Conner, president of the PTA at P.S. 372 in Gowanus. “Currently our school has a crossing guard on 3rd Avenue and Carroll Street and 4th Avenue and Carroll Street. I would hope that the school can get more crossing guards for September 2023.”
As for Francois, he said there are people interested in the job and the benefits. He insisted that the job of a school crossing guard is a community need.
“They save lives everyday,” he said. “They really care, they hug the kids, and the kids feel good about them. But it’s about the safety of it all. Why would your child go to school knowing they can’t be safe walking across Flatbush Avenue or Atlantic Avenue?”
Correction July 7, 2023, 6:03 p.m.: This story initially misstated Tracy Jordan’s last name as Johnson. We regret the error.