The Dallas City Council agreed Wednesday afternoon to pick up the tab for the now defunct Dallas County Schools' school crossing guard program through the end of the 2017-18 school year. The city will pay $2.4 million out of its general and reserve funds to continue the program, which the dissolution committee in charge of shutting down DCS had slated to end Jan. 31.
Despite misgivings about being stuck with the crossing-guard tab after Dallas County voters decided to shutter DCS in November, the council voted unanimously to approve the deal, which was reached after the city sued the school district to force it to continue the program through the end of July.
While the council expressed reluctance to bail out DCS — earlier this month, council member Casey Thomas called the crossing guard situation "an absolute mess that we did not create" — members agreed that protecting Dallas public school students, as required by state law, was something with which the city shouldn't play around.
"I think it's essential that we don't have any disruption in the current services for the safety of our children," City Council member Jennifer Staubach Gates said, "but when we take over this program, I just want to be sure that the city of Dallas' tax dollars are going to spent in an efficient manner and that we're going to be running an accountable program, unlike what we're inheriting."
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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, which provided school bus service for several local school districts, 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 previous seven years, when the city was in control.
As this school year wraps up, the city plans to figure out how to provide crossing guards in the future and how to roll back the increased costs that the program incurred while being run by DCS.
As part of the deal, Texas Comptroller Glen Hager, the official in charge of forming the DCS dissolution committee, will recommend that Dallas City Manager T.C. Broadnax be added to it, giving the city of Dallas a voice as the committee decides which of the district's debts should be paid and where DCS assets should go.
"I want to thank the city manager for taking the bull by the horns and treating this as an urgent matter because it is all about our school kids," council member Rickey Callahan said. "That was our highest priority."