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County Restores $1.8 Million for Crossing Guards : Education: The funds stem from an unexpected windfall. Supervisors warn the 34 school districts that the reprieve is only temporary.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Buoyed by an unexpected windfall of $125 million, the Board of Supervisors restored $1.8 million Tuesday for crossing guards at 134 schools across Los Angeles County.

The restoration of the county program, deleted in budget-cutting in late July, came as a relief to school administrators , crossing guards and parents from Palmdale to Hawthorne.

“It’s important to have crossing guards, even in our little town, because people just don’t want to stop,” said Penny Radovanovich, 40, who stopped by Castaic Elementary School to pick up her 7-year-old daughter Tuesday afternoon.

After scolding a child for riding her bike across nearby Lake Hughes Road, crossing guard Norma Ortiz said she will benefit personally as well as professionally from the reinstatement of funds.

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“I have two daughters at this school and they cross the street every day too,” she said.

But the reprieve is only temporary. The board warned the 34 affected districts that they will have to pay half the cost of crossing guards in unincorporated portions of the county next year and the full cost in two years.

School administrators signaled that they intend to lobby against that plan.

“Safety outside the school grounds is the responsibility of the county and the cities, not the schools,” said Supt. Forrest MacElroy of the Palmdale School District. “The $30,000 we’d have to spend on crossing guards would buy one classroom teacher, and that’s what we should be doing with the money.”

Most of the districts, including the two affected in the San Fernando and surrounding valleys, had reluctantly picked up the tab for the program after the county dropped the guards from the payroll. But one cash-strapped district in the San Gabriel Valley was forced to leave 17 intersections unsupervised for six days.

“Thank God there were no accidents,” said Andy Cazares, superintendent of the Hacienda La Puente Unified School District, which left students at the 17 intersections unprotected since the school year began.

Supervisors Gloria Molina, Deane Dana and Yvonne Brathwaite Burke voted to fully fund the program this year after learning that the county had $125 million more in its coffers than was previously estimated. Supervisors Ed Edelman and Mike Antonovich were out of town.

“Crossing guards are critical,” Molina said. “My child goes to school and has a crossing guard, and so should all the children.”

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Earlier this month, Antonovich had proposed that the county restore at least a portion of the funds. At the time, the board declined, citing its deep fiscal woes.

But the unexpected windfall, achieved mainly because of effective penny-pinching by managers, prompted the supervisors to tap into other funds they would have otherwise husbanded, Burke said.

The money for the crossing guards is actually coming from funds that the county will save by refinancing 1986 pension obligation bonds at a lower interest rate, Treasurer Sandra Davis said.

Without the $125-million surplus, “we would have been fighting over what to do with the pension funds,” Burke said.

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In Castaic, where trucks pull in to fuel and boaters drive through on their way to Castaic Lake, school administrators had previously planned to dip into their reserves to pay the $14,000 it costs annually for two crossing guards.

“With all that traffic, we couldn’t afford not to pay for it, even though we need that money for all the other crazy things that might happen,” Supt. Scott Brown said.

Some children agreed.

“If we don’t have crossing guards, we might not look both ways--we might forget and then we’d get killed,” said Jaime Jiminez, 9.

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But others were skeptical about the need for guards.

Sixth-grader Brian Miller said, “I don’t use a crossing guard. I’m 10 going on 11.”

Times staff writer Chip Johnson contributed to this story.


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