In Hillsborough County, each of the 100 public elementary schools has crossing guards to help children get to and from school safely.
Its 42 middle schools, however, do not offer the same protections for their students.
The lack of crossing guards has been an issue of concern for the country’s eighth largest school district for some time, but recent reports of parents raising money to hire a private company to supply crossing guards got the attention of county officials.
Mulrennan Middle School in Valrico raised $13,000 to employ crossing guards from a private company for one semester. Other middle schools in Hillsborough County are moving to do the same.
Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White said he’s received several complaints from the parents of middle schoolers regarding the safety of their children -- and they're following Mulrennan's example.
“I’ve received several calls from parents in my district. Rodgers and Randall Middle Schools come to mind,” he said. “I believe the parents at Rodgers are in the process of raising private funds for crossing guards at their school.”
Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister thinks these private funds have a better purpose.
“I believe that the PTA and the funds the parents are using should be used for programs to enhance a student's experience at the school,” he said. “It shouldn't be used for simple safety programs.”
According to Chronister, state laws mandate that crossing guards be present at all public elementary schools, but that middle and high schools are not included in the statute.
“It becomes cost-prohibitive to have (crossing guards) at middle schools,” he explained. “If the County Commission agrees to conduct a more formal study and ultimately agrees to fund the economic and other intangibles as far as roadway crossings and beacons and other things that come along with it, this will be the first in the state.”
Right now, the county employs 276 elementary school crossing guards at a cost of $1.6 million, according to Chronister.
White said his goal is to find the funding to provide all of Hillsborough County’s public middle schools with crossing guards. He said the study is necessary to determine the cost of the program, but he estimates about $2 million per year is needed.
The safety of Hillsborough County children, he stated, is a top priority regardless of the cost.
“For years there’s been this mindset that by the time kids reach middle school, that they’re old enough to cross the street without a guard,” White said. “That may have very well been true 15-20 years ago but in this day and age, we have a lot more traffic on the roads, people are in a hurry, they’re not paying attention, and they’re distracted by things like cell phones.”
White will ask his fellow commissioners at Wednesday's meeting to partner with Chronister to complete the study necessary to set the project in motion.
“I’m going to ask that the county commission officially join the sheriff and lend any resources that we can in an effort to get the study done completely and as quickly as possible,” he said.