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MDUSD appears wary of accepting liability for volunteer crossing guards

The Mt. Diablo school board tonight will hear an update about an effort underway at Ayers Elementary to provide volunteer crossing guards to replace those that were cut from the city of Concord’s budget.

Trustees first discussed this issue Jan. 14. Here’s what the agenda report for that meeting said:

“Some municipalities have reduced traffic control support in these difficult budgetary times. Accordingly, some district employees and parent groups have offered to provide crossing guard support at our elementary sites. Consequently, in order to create a consistent policy the Board shall discuss the merits and implications of providing either District based or volunteer crossing guards.”

Here are video links to the board discussion:

Part 1: http://youtu.be/iGCgwzW5ee8

Part 2: http://youtu.be/eHHbRNARTBY

After this meeting, I received an email from an Ayers Elementary parent that was also sent to the board, a response to the parent that was copied to everyone else on the distribution list, a response from the parent, a follow-up email from the parent, and a response from the Ayers Office Manager that was copied to everyone on the distribution list.

Here is the sequence of emails:

Jan. 15 email from Ayers parent Kristi Buchholz:

“Dear Concord City Council Members, City of Concord Administration, MDUSD Board Members, and MDUSD Administration,

I have been a city resident for almost 20 years. I have two children in the MDUSD, one in second grade, and one in seventh grade. I have been a very active parent at Ayers Elementary School since 2006. I have sat on School Site Council, am a member of the Ayers Safety Committee, held multiple positions on the Ayers PTA, Pine Hollow PTA as well as the Mt. Diablo Council of PTA’s. I am fortunate enough to be able to volunteer many hours a week through these worthwhile organizations.

I am writing to you all out of sheer frustration and desperation at this point. The crosswalk directly in front of Ayers Elementary has been a very dangerous problem for years. This particular crosswalk was never staffed at city or MDUSD expense. Up until last year, a MDUSD noon supervisor staffed the crosswalk, and Ayers PTA reimbursed MDUSD for the expense at roughly $2500 per year. As you are all aware, PTA’s and other parent groups are scrambling to raise precious funds to supplement the thousands of dollars cut by the State of California. Ayers PTA was happy to fund this, considering it a small price to pay for the safety and well being of our hundreds of students. We were informed at the beginning of this school year, that employees were no longer permitted to act as crossing guards, regardless of who was paying for it.

I then approached the City of Concord Police Department, on behalf of the Ayers Safety committee, to inquire about codes and rules regarding acting as a crossing guard. We were aware of Concord Municipal Code 106-39 which reads: “Sec. 106-39. Persons other than authorized officials not to direct traffic.

No person other than an officer of the Police Department, members of the Fire District, a person authorized by the Chief of Police, or a person authorized by law shall direct or attempt to direct traffic by voice, hand, or other signal, except in an emergency and except that persons may operate any mechanical pushbutton signal erected by order of the Director of Public Works.0

(Code 1965, § 3211; Ord. No. 743; Ord. No. 818″

We then were contacted by Officer Bill Roche who informed us that the Police Department was putting together a volunteer crossing guard curriculum, thus allowing trained volunteers to act as crossing guards. On Wednesday, January 9th, a small but dedicated group of volunteers attended the training. Finally, a solution!

Now, this morning, I received an email from the Ayers Principal, Ms, Charla Hernandez informing me that she had attended the MDUSD School Board meeting last night (January 14th) where the School Board stated that no volunteers may act as crossing guards. Ms. Hernandez also informed me that we can no longer act as crossing guards in front of Ayers. The children are now left to their own devices to get safely across the street. This is completely unacceptable.

I am now appealing to a broad group of you, administrators, elected officials and local media to help get this issue solved. Enough is enough. I realize that this all comes down to liability. There must be a way to make this work. This must be corrected immediately to insure the safety of the hundreds of children at Ayers. I am sure as more budget cuts loom, the City of Concord may consider eliminating all paid crossing guards, as they attempted to do in June of 2012.

Sincerely,
Kristi Buchholz
Ayers Parent
Ayers PTA Executive VP
Ayers Safety Committee Member”

Jan. 15 district response:

“To all concerned:

Trustee Brian Lawrence contacted me concerned about possible misperceptions about the Board deliberations regarding volunteer crossing guards. The Board docket information item 14 .9 entitled ‘Crossing Guards’ read:

‘Some municipalities have reduced traffic control support in these difficult budgetary times. Accordingly, some district employees and parent groups have offered to provide crossing guard support at our elementary sites. Consequently, in order to create a consistent policy the Board shall discuss the merits and implications of providing either district based or volunteer crossing guards.’

The Board agenda item demonstrates an understanding that many public entities are having to make difficult economic decisions. The Board was briefed on their legal responsibility with regard to District based in volunteer crossing guard support. The Board members all praised the volunteers at Ayres Elementary School for being part of the solution. The Board and staff uniformly stated that the District wished to participate in a collaborative solution with the municipalities, namely the City of Concord, in order to go the extra mile to protect our students. Although the Board was mindful of its fiduciary duty to protect the District from liability, they directed staff to do whatever we could to work with the City to protect our students, reduced legal exposure, and help the City provide this service. Specifically the Board directed Dr. Lawrence and me to meet with the City of Concord staff to discuss this collaborative solution. Dr. Lawrence will be contacting them today.

Greg Rolen

Greg Rolen, Esq.
General Counsel
Mt. Diablo Unified School District
1936 Carlotta Drive
Concord, California 94519
Telephone: 925-682-8000 Ext. 4001
Fax: 925-680-2505″

Buchholz’ Jan. 15 response:

“Dear Mr. Rolen,
Thank you for taking the time to reply. I am sure you can understand my frustration of fighting this battle for over six years now. My worst fear is that a child will become injured, or worse. I am sure you share those same fears.

I fully understand that liability is at the center of the issue now. Has anyone from MDUSD inquired with your insurance company regarding employee’s acting as crossing guards? If so, what was the reply? Is this specifically excluded in the insurance plan? What would it take to get coverage for this? I can only assume that the City of Concord is going to pass the buck on liability as well. What then? I refuse to accept that this is an impossible feat.

I have spoken to many different MDUSD officials and administrators over those six years and have never gotten a clear, definitive answer. When Ayers PTA began reimbursing the district for noon supervisors acting as crossing guards, Julie Braun Martin told me that employees could not act as crossing guards because their contracts forbid it. When I pointed out that noon time supervisors are not under contract, I never heard back. I have asked to see any policy regarding this, in writing, multiple times. No one ever returned my inquiries.

I believe that six years is an unacceptable amount of time to get a problem solved.

I look forward to getting anwers to my questions soon.

Kristi Buchholz”

Buchholz’ Jan. 23 follow-up:

“I would like to pass on that while observing the crosswalk this morning, two children came within a foot or two of being hit by cars. I am at a loss for words as this is allowed to continue.

I am aware that Dr. Lawrence is meeting with Chief Swanger and Valerie Barone soon, and eagerly await a quick decision, as the current situation is unacceptable.

Thank you,
Kristi Buchholz”

Jan. 23 response from Ayers Office Manager Sarah Strong:

“Please, please stop!!

This very important issue is tearing our community apart. Our students are expecting all of us to model the spirit of collaboration to solve problems. If we don’t show it to them now, how will they ever learn it?

Sarah Strong
Office Manager, Ayers Elementary
Phone: 925 682-7686
District Extension: 85701
Fax #: 925827-2521″

After attending the Jan. 14 meeting, CC Times columnist Tom Barnidge weighed in with this column: http://www.contracostatimes.com/ci_22436832/barnidge-how-solve-case-missing-crossing-guards

How do you think the district should resolve this issue>?

JAN. 30 UPDATE: Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the Monday meeting, so I did not hear the crossing guard update (and there was not written staff report). However, I am posting a Jan. 29 follow-up email that was sent by Buchholz to her original distribution list, thanking them for their work on resolving the issue:

“To all involved in our Ayers Crossing Guard situation,

THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!!!

I was so very pleased at the outcome presented at our MDUSD School Board meeting last night. This has been a glowing example of the good that can come from all the stake holders in our community coming together to solve a problem.

I thoroughly appreciate the collaboration from all involved, it could not have happened without each and every one of you participating in some way!

I would like to give a special thanks to both Brian Lawrence and Edi Birsan for going above and beyond. I am very grateful to be part of a community who has leaders such as them at the helm.

I honestly expected some push back, and some red tape, but I am so happy that all I got was support, and declarations of ‘We will get this done’, from everyone!

Thanks again,
Kristi Buchholz”

Posted by on January 28, 2013.

Tags:

Categories: Education, Mt. Diablo school district

  • g

    Start by transferring Sarah Strong to Rolen’s payroll budget and give her her own rubber stamp ‘private’ and a shredder. She will have plenty of work to do in the legal department.

  • Doctor J

    Where did Principal Charla Hernandez get the idea from attending the school board meeting that “the Board” said that no volunteers may act as crossing guards ? It was not an action item, and there was no vote taken. Sarah Strong was out of line to send an email like she did — under what authority ?

  • Anon

    Remove the crosswalk, apparently it was put in when the liability issue/funding wasn’t a problem. The parents will then need to drop their children off on the same side of the street as the school.

  • Kristi Buchholz

    I received phone calls from trustee Brian Lawrence and Concord City Council member Edi Birsan on Friday night letting me know that the meeting between Dr. Lawrence, Greg Rolen, CPD Chief Swanger and possibly the Interim city manager, went well. I wasn’t given any details, just told that they would share the information tonight. Ayers principal Charla Hernandez called this afternoon and conveyed the same information

    I am hopeful that with all of us working together, this issue will get resolved.

  • g

    Remind me again. How much did this district save when it closed schools, cut special ed assistance? How much did they spend on themselves from the secret cookie jar reserves this past year? Just Dent employees alone got millions, didn’t they?

    Wasn’t that just about the same time Steven Lawrence was being asked by Concord and Pleasant Hill to kick in to help out with crossing guard expenses?

    Concord spends about $90K, Pleasant Hill has a couple more guards, so they spend over $91K.

    The average cost for one guard in PH: $14.13/hr x 4hrs/day x 9locations.

    Pat answer PH got from Lawrence:
    Dear Officer Sillers:

    I am writing to confirm that yet again the Mt. Diablo Unified School District does not have the funds to provide crossing guards to the City of Pleasant Hill. Unfortunately, state funding for public education continues to decline and we are forced to make even more cuts to our declining budget.

    We appreciate the City of Pleasant Hill’s continuing commitment to provide crossing guards for our students; safety before and after school.
    —-
    signed, and yada-yada

    You bet they appreciate the cities paying for guard service–every time they cash their checks!

    No one squeezes a nickle tighter than I, but then my nickle doesn’t smell like a rat.

  • Theresa Harrington

    The special ed assistant cuts are detailed in the minutes of the June 14, 2011 meeting in Item 16.14: http://www.mdusd.org/boe/Documents/minutes/1011/061411.pdf

    Hansen and Dennler voted against cutting the special education assistants. Mayo, Eberhart and Whitmarsh voted in favor, after Mayo voted against her own motion to postpone the vote until the last meeting in June, when CFO Richards would have better financial info.

    On another note, I’m hearing rumors there may not be any more special ed slots available at small necessary high schools. So, if the “functioning” Coordinated CARE Teams and Student Services teams identify the need for a failing special ed high school student to make up credits, what action will be taken? Team meetings do not solve the problem.

  • Doctor J

    Don’t get too worked up — the Signif Disp Plan — is just on for “information” not for action. Supt Lawrence has no intention of putting it up for a vote — he is going to submit it and the budget without Board approval. Lets see how the Board reacts when they figure that out ! The next Board meeting isn’t for a month ! The plan is due Jan 31. And where is the FCMAT report ?

  • Theresa Harrington

    Please note that I have added a Jan. 30 update to this blog post, with a follow-up email from Buchholz, thanking everyone for the positive outcome.

  • Sue Berg

    Theresa,
    Glad to hear that parents are pleased with district and city response. What was the outcome? Is there a report of it that I missed?

  • Doctor J

    Hi Sue, did you ever have a chance to listen to the FFF webinar on AB 1575 ? I was very curious on your opinion as it will impact the district.

  • http://www.k12reboot.com Jim

    Why didn’t someone write to Sarah Strong, saying,

    “Please, please stop obstructing a solution!!

    This very important issue is tearing our community apart and could end up injuring or killing our children. Our students are expecting all of us to model the spirit of collaboration to solve problems. If we don’t show it to them now, how will they ever learn it?”

    Or is everyone else except MDUSD supposed to “model collaboration to solve problems”?

    Kristi, you did an excellent job here. Few people would have had the patience to spend six years convincing this district to finally take the problem seriously.

  • Wait a Minute

    This is just another of the hundreds of examples of mis-placed priorities and incompetence of the leadership within the district.

    Its only a matter of time until a child or children are killed or seriously hurt crossing these streets.

    The MOST IMPORTANT DUTY OF THIS DISTRICT IS PROTECT OUR CHILDREN FROM HARM!!!

    Its so emblematic of the dysfuntion to know that Greg Rolen was able to re-direct well over $120,000 to his household through his Gang of Five raise and the AIS Contract for his paramour (now wife) while simulataneously denying district monies to this mission-critical safety issue?

  • Theresa Harrington

    WAM: It’s my understanding that some sort of positive resolution to this problem was announced at the meeting. However, it’s unfortunate that the superintendent didn’t prepare any sort of written report about it, so there’s no way to know what the resolution was unless you listen to the audio of the meeting or wait for the minutes. Here’s the audio: http://www.mdusd.org/boe/Pages/boe-sam.aspx

    I haven’t had a chance to listen to it yet, since I’ve been on vacation.

  • g

    Theresa; I listened on the radio and watched Brian’s video, and as I recall, the ‘report’ consisted of something like “we and the city and the parents are going to cooperate and pilot a program at Ayers for the next 5 months and then we’ll see if/how it works.” What does the pilot program consist of? Who knows!

  • Theresa Harrington

    Did they mention liability?

    Coincidentally, I just received this information about a pilot walking program sponsored by Kaiser in the Monument Corridor:

    “Cambridge Elementary School (and this week Meadow Homes) have implemented Walking School Buses in the morning to help get kids to school safely. Led by 15 parent volunteers, the school buses at Cambridge currently help 60 kids.

    The program has a few goals: promote walking as a way to increase physical activity for students and their families; reduce traffic congestion near the schools; and open communication between the schools, parents and the community about local concerns like the need for more crosswalks or speeding cars.

    The schools are in Kaiser Permanente’s Healthy Eating Active Living (HEAL) Zones.The HEAL Zones are a targeted, three-year effort by Kaiser Permanente to encourage people in low-income communities to eat better and move more as part of daily life.”

    There’s no mention of liability.

  • g

    I don’t recall that word, much less the solution, slipping out of Lawrence or Rolen at any point, and after putting up such a fight, in my opinion Rolen was verbose in his praise of Kristi and her efforts–without conceding that he had ever been part of the problem or that he was five or six years late with the praise.

  • Kristi Buchholz

    I can attempt to tell you my understanding of the decision.
    Ayers will continue with the pilot program for the month of February.
    The pilot program consists of volunteers attending a training program put on by the Concord PD, which I have already done, along with other Ayers parents. The trained volunteers will act as crossing guards on Myrtle Drive, right in front of Ayers.
    At the end of February, the program will be evaluated (not sure who exactly will do the evaluation), and if it is deemed successful, will be offered to other schools within Concord. I believe the Superintendent mentioned pairing with other cities within MDUSD as well, to get their Police Departments involved as well.
    A traffic study will also be done, although one was done two years ago, at my request (in hopes of getting a 4 way stop put in), but according to the City of Concord, the results did not warrant the need for a 4 way stop.
    It was also stated that uniformed auxiliary officers would come by to observe at different times.

    So, what it boils down to is: Volunteers will staff the crosswalk for February. If it works out, we will get to continue to do so with the blessing of the City and MDUSD.

    I still don’t know who is covering liability, but at least our kids will be safer!

  • Theresa Harrington

    I received an email from Ayers Office Manager Sarah Strong, requesting that I add this comment on her behalf:

    “My name is Sarah Strong. I admit to sending an e-mail to numerous individuals, including Theresa Harrington, offering my suggestion regarding the communication which was rapidly transpiring regarding the crosswalk on Myrtle Drive, in front of the school where I work. As a result of that e-mail I would agree that my statement, ‘Please, please, stop!!’ was unclear. Please allow me to clarify. It was my sincere intent to implore those individuals directly involved in addressing the Ayers crosswalk travesty, to model the spirit of collaboration for our students. Just for the record, during the last two months of the 2011/12 school year, I assisted with the safe crossing of our students and community members using this very crosswalk. I too await the prompt and successful resolution, which will ensure the safety to everyone who will use crosswalks to help them get to school. I am still confident that collaboration will achieve a solution.”

  • Theresa Harrington

    Kristi, Thanks for sharing the outcome. It does seem odd, however, that liability was not even mentioned, since that was pretty much the entire focus of the board discussion on Jan. 14.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Tragic accident today when a 14-year-old was struck by a car and critically injured while crossing the street in a crosswalk at Solano Way and Grant Street in Concord: http://www.contracostatimes.com/concord/ci_22567228/concord-solano-way-at-grant-street-closed-by

    Crosswalks do not guarantee safety, especially when they are in areas with no stop lights.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Here’s a sneak preview of a super slide show featuring volunteer parent crossing guards at Ayers and Meadow Homes elementary schools: http://photos.mercurynews.com/2013/03/08/concord-parents-volunteer-crossing-guards-provide-safe-walk-to-school-for-kids/#1

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