New hires solve SF school crossing guard shortage — for now

San Francisco has gone on a school crossing guard-hiring binge, hoping to stem a shortage that left many streets near schools unattended in previous years.

Just in time for the new school year, Mayor London Breed on Friday announced the hiring of 15 new school crossing guards at a press event at Marina Middle School.

“We want to make sure that our streets and sidewalks are safe for everyone in our City—whether you’re walking, biking, taking public transit, or in a car,” Breed said in a statement. “We have several ongoing initiatives to ensure year-round safety for pedestrians and bicyclists, and a few extra measures in place to make sure students can get to and from school safely once classes start on Monday.”

The stakes are high — some San Francisco schools sit on The City’s “high-injury network,” the 13 percent of streets where the most deadly traffic collisions are known to occur. San Francisco police will protect twenty of those more dangerous intersections during the first week of school, The City announced Friday.

The 15 hires new hires bring the total number of crossing guards in San Francisco up to 190, just five shy of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s estimate for “optimal” number of guards.

They’ve got a lot of territory to cover — roughly 154 intersections throughout The City, encompassing 64 elementary schools, eight “alternative” K-8 schools, 13 middle schools, among others. The crossing guards also are stationed at some of The City’s private schools.

There’s a waiting list for those crossing guards, too. Two years ago, 19 schools were on the waiting list. But with the additional hires, that waiting list has been whittled down to 11.

In April last year, a hearing at the San Francisco County Transportation Authority highlighted a shortage of school crossing guards. Turnover was high.

Though The City had hired 140 crossing guards since 2015, 130 had also left.

At that April 2018 meeting, crossing guards said low pay, no benefits, and the tough-to-tackle “split shifts” (working during the mornings and afternoons with hours off in between) made it a less desirable job, leading to turnover.

Since then, however, The City has negotiated with various unions and the crossing guards got a pay bump, from $18.50 per hour to $21.11 per hour.

“We are optimistic that this wage increase will help with recruitment and retention,” SFMTA spokesperson Erica Kato told the San Francisco Examiner.

One crossing guard isn’t so sure.

Joel Kamisher, who represented crossing guards at the bargaining table this year, told the Examiner the main impediment to retention is benefits. If the crossing guards saw their hours increased from 12 per week to 20 per week, they’d be eligible for some benefits they can’t access now, he said.

“The City was indifferent or resisted the ideas to give us twenty hours,” Kamisher said.

School crossing guards in other Bay Area cities are also paid a higher hourly wage, he said, and school crossing guards are often the most vulnerable populations.

“Most of the guards are immigrants, there are a lot of Chinese people who speak little English,” as well as seniors on fixed incomes, he said.

And as far as the pay raises go, Kamisher said, “I think time will tell as to whether or not that actually helps us.”

Those interested in becoming Crossing Guards are encouraged to apply on-line through the City’s Human Resources Job Opportunities page, or contact the Crossing Guard Program at CrossingGuards@sfmta.com for further information.

joe@sfexaminer.com

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