Without some action from Dallas, children attending school within the city won't have crossing guards starting at the end of January. On Wednesday, the City Council learned about this unintended consequence of voters' November decision to eliminate Dallas County Schools.
Texas law requires all cities with populations of more than 850,000 to provide school crossing guards for kids attending schools within city limits. In 2012, Dallas outsourced the job to Dallas County Schools as part of a pair of agreements with the school bus operator. The city passed an ordinance allowing for video enforcement of the law requiring motorists to stop when a school bus extends its stop arm. DCS was allowed to keep the fines paid by violators. In return, DCS agreed to foot the bill for the crossing guard program, which ballooned to $4.2 million annually under DCS after costing less than $3 million annually for the last seven years the city was in control.
On Dec. 18, the dissolution committee in charge of scrapping Dallas County Schools for parts voted to stop paying for the crossing guard program Jan. 31.
"This is a mess. This is an absolute mess that we did not create,” City Council member Casey Thomas said.
According to numbers from city staff, running the crossing guard program would cost the city about $1.9 million for the remainder of this fiscal year and $4.4 million for 2018-19. There isn't money for the program in the budget, which has left city staff chasing two plans for recouping some of the costs.
Last week, the city sued the dissolution committee, seeking a preliminary injunction that would force Dallas County Schools to continue operating the system until the end of July. The city also wants the committee to hand over Dallas County Schools' remaining cash earmarked for the program. The next hearing in the case is set for next week.
"We have an obligation to provide safety for children, which I hope the judge will see as a priority over paying other debts,” City Council member Lee Kleinman said Wednesday, according to KDFW-TV.
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The city also wants Dallas County to begin charging a state-allowed $1.50 fee on vehicle registrations for a Child Safety Trust Fund that could help defray some of the cost of the program.
"Look, this is an ugly situation that we're in, but in some ways, I'm very glad we're starting to resolve this," Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said. "There was terrible rot in this organization, so I supported dissolution of DCS. It was the right thing to do, and we're seeing why it was the right thing to do.”
Whatever long-term solution the city finds, no one on the council seemed optimistic about taking over the program.
"We're going to get hosed on this. We are, so we have to raise revenue,” council member Mark Clayton said.