In The News

Police & parents: Downtown’s danger streets need crossing guards- Downtown Express

By DUSICA SUE MALESEVIC  | For a year and a half, school crossing guard Maria Acosta has been watching over children and pedestrians at the corner of Chambers and Greenwich Sts. near P.S. 234.

Acosta, search who was an elementary school teacher in her native Dominican Republic, advice wanted to be a crossing guard because it is the closest thing she could find here to her former job.

“I really love to work with children,” she told Downtown Express before school let out one afternoon last week. Acosta kept her eyes on the lights, crosswalks and those crossing, with her hand hovering near her whistle.

On a rainy Tuesday afternoon, she stood sentinel in a yellow slicker. Polly Brandmeyer and her son Nick, a third grader at P.S. 234, talked about how happy they were to have Acosta as their crossing guard. Acosta is personable, Brandmeyer said, and everyone knows her. Having her at the intersection is important as “it is so dangerous especially when cars are turning,” she said.

“I think she is great; she does a great job,” said Donna Walker, who waited in the schoolyard under an umbrella. Walker recounted that just the day before, she saw a truck trying to push through the crosswalk and Acosta stopped it with her whistle.

“We’re very lucky,” said Walker, who has a third and fifth grader at the school.

But other schools in Lower Manhattan are not as lucky to have someone like Acosta, who is quick with a smile, friendly and intent on using her whistle. (Acosta declined to be photographed for this article, citing N.Y.P.D. policy.)

There are three Lower Manhattan intersections where the N.Y.P.D. thinks crossing guards are needed. If the vacancies remain though the summer the number will go to four when Peck Slip School opens in a new building.

Spruce Street School, which moved to its permanent home in the Gehry building in 2011, has been without a crossing guard. A recent hit and run, which occurred during morning drop off and left a woman seriously injured, has spurred calls for a crossing guard.

This is not the first time an incident has taken place near the school. Three years ago, a U.P.S. driver was struck at Beekman St. near Nassau St. and died later from complications of the accident.

The First Precinct has heard from parents and the community at meetings about the need of a crossing guard.

“I also want a crossing guard there,” Captain Mark Iocco said at the First Precinct Community Council meeting on May 28. “I made that recommendation in writing.”

A request has been put in for a crossing guard to be stationed on Beekman at William St., near the entrance of the school and where eventually there will also be an entrance to a parking garage below the school, said Gene Schatz, one of the precinct’s community affairs officer at the meeting.

Another request has also been put in for a crossing guard at Pearl St. and Peck Slip for the new Peck Slip School, which will open this fall in the Seaport.

Currently, there are four crossing guards stationed within the First Precinct’s boundaries: MacDougal and West Houston Sts., Chambers and Greenwich Sts. near P.S. 234 in Tribeca, and in Battery Park City: Battery Place and 1st Place near P.S./I.S. 276 and Chambers and West Sts. near P.S. 89/I.S. 289.

For P.S./I.S. 276 and P.S. 89/I.S. 289, two spots have been assigned for crossing guards, but only one for each school has been filled. Schatz said the precinct is looking to fill those two spots.

At the busy West Side Highway near Chambers St., Zaida Martinez has been a crossing guard for a year and a month.

“I’m so happy to take care of everybody,” Martinez told Downtown Express on a recent hot Fridayafternoon.

The highway, also known as Route 9A or West St., has a tremendous amount of traffic and cars blocked the crosswalk as parents with strollers and kids had to maneuver around them to cross the wide street.

Martinez, who hails from the Dominican Republic, was a crossing guard once before in 2010, but left to take care of her father.

Both she and Acosta work part time, five hours a day, 25 hours a week — the maximum amount they can work.

For Shaun D. Francois I, president of the guards’ union, Local 372, that is part of the problem — the shortage of school crossing guards. A low hourly wage and the lack of benefits during the summer months have discouraged many from applying for the job.

“That means in the summertime, they have [to] choose between buying some loaf of bread or milk or paying their [medical] premium,” he said.

The starting pay for a crossing guard was $9.88, but that was just bumped up to $11.50 on April 1, Francois said. While the increase is a beginning, “that’s still not enough for living standards,” he said.

The union, which is comprised of N.Y.C. Board of Education employees, is pushing for $15 an hour and continued benefits during the summer, he said.

There are around 2,300 crossing guards throughout the city, he said, and around 200 vacancies that need to be filled. Francois said that the vacancies have been a persistent problem for years.

“School crossing guards are crucial to street safety around our schools, and Manhattan’s children are especially vulnerable because we have more unfilled crossing guard positions than any other borough,” Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer said in a statement to Downtown Express.

Manhattan is home to over 500 schools, but only has 349 crossing guard positions — and many of those are vacant, according to Brewer’s office.

“The city must act to fill existing vacancies, but we also need to increase guard headcount overall and deploy additional guards through a data-driven process that includes teachers, parents and community boards,” said Brewer.

Even when a crossing guard is assigned, like in the case of P.S. 276 whose crossing guard has been out, it is difficult to get a sub for them.

In the absence of an assigned guard, other members of the service, such as police officers, will be assigned to cover or monitor the post, Detective Kellyann Ort from N.Y.P.D.’s Office of the Deputy Commissioner, Public Information, wrote in an emailTuesday.

In addition to increasing pay and lifting the cap on working hours, Brewer wants to have a regular, central recruitment process for crossing guards rather than individual recruitment for each position through local police precincts. Also, there should be an increase in the overall crossing guard headcount by budgeting to create additional positions as well.

Crossing guards are under the auspices of the N.Y.P.D. — and must apply at the precinct. At the First Precinct, there is an allocation for a certain amount of crossing guards, Iocco told Downtown Express last month. The precinct currently has four applicants that potentially could fill each vacancy. Each applicant goes through a background check, medical screening and completes six days of training.

Ort said schools and posts are assessed regularly by precinct commanding officers. These assessments include, but are not limited to a review of traffic conditions, school size and street closures, she said. These posts are then staffed in priority order, said Ort.

Francois, the union leader, said that crossing guards are dedicated workers that are out in inclement weather — whether it is raining, snowing, hailing or a heat wave. He talked about a recent incident in the Bronx, where a woman was hit for the second time in the same intersection.

“The principal himself had called for a crossing guard for the last four years to deaf ears,” he said. “It shouldn’t take somebody getting hurt or somebody being severely injured or even killed for them to open their ears to see that the crossing guard is needed.”