Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White is proposing a new budget item that would fund crossing guards at crosswalks near all traditional public schools in the county.
The effort would cost the county $1 million a year. He’s also suggesting $200,000 for capital costs to improve crosswalks by adding lane striping, flashing beacons or signage. The Board of County Commissioners will consider White’s proposal at its meeting next Wednesday.
White’s move comes after White has been working since early this year to find ways to fund more crossing guards at Hillsborough County Schools and just a few days after a Riverview student was struck by a car crossing the street to get to Barrington Middle School. The 12-year old boy was expected to recover, according to ABC Action News.
White’s proposal would use money from the county’s general fund and it would not apply to county charter schools. The capital cost for crosswalk improvements would be used for only those intersections located within unincorporated Hillsborough County.
“It is obvious that the safety of our children should be among the highest of our priorities,” White said. “There have been reports that parents at other schools have successfully raised funds for crossing guards. That’s just unacceptable. Fundraisers at schools should be for things that enhance the educational experience.”
Under the current funding structure, only Hillsborough elementary schools have crossing guards and those middle schools that have them have gotten them after parents launched vocal campaigns.
“Student safety should not be about whose parents yell the loudest,” said Hillsborough County School Board member Cindy Stewart.
She pointed out that crossing guards are provided through the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s office, not through the school district. That means money raised through the voter-approved halfpenny sales tax cannot be used to fund the needed safety improvements.
But, another new tax could. The All For Transportation referendum voters approved in November along with the education tax provides additional revenue for transportation-related improvements for the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority, Hillsborough County and all three Hillsborough municipalities.
Leaders of the All For Transportation campaign say the county could use a portion of its proceeds to fund crossing guards as well as capital improvements to enhance pedestrian safety. The group criticized White for championing the issue after he filed a lawsuit against the very tax that could help fund it. That lawsuit cost the county at least $158,000, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
“This is a heartbreaking example of how Stacy White’s obstruction is affecting Hillsborough County families. We should be focused today on how the All for Transportation funding can address this critical need for students at every Hillsborough County school next year and instead, Commissioner White is filing lawsuits to block solutions. There is a concerning disconnect between his words and his actions.” said All For Transportation co-chair Christina Barker.
But White said he found a solution without needing to access millions of dollars in annual tax increases to Hillsborough residents.
“This is a priority that we’re able to address in the absence of the tax. Should that become available I’m sure county staff would explore the option of using those dollars,” White said. “I say let’s take care of our kids, their safety is our number one priority, and not use it as a political platform.”