After winning their summer unemployment benefits back in a recent statewide decision, Richmond County School Crossing guards are now having their workdays and pay cut by the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office.
Chief Deputy Patrick Clayton said not only was the guards’ hourly wage of $19.18 per hour above that of comparable counties, their payment for school system holidays, furlough days and four sick days was an unheard-of practice for part-time workers.
“We pay you a good wage; we’re going to leave your salary the same,” Clayton said he would explain to the guards. “But we’re going to pay you when you work.”
Clayton, who like Sheriff Richard Roundtree came from Richmond County Board of Education police department, said the move will save the city about $70,000 per year.
Where that savings would actually go, however, is uncertain. According to a document obtained from the city finance office, the 77 guards’ wages, taxes and Medicare payments cost the city $526,853.38 last year. After reimbursement by Richmond County Board of Education for the service, however, the net cost to the city for 2012 was only $46,505.
None of the guards would speak on the record with The Augusta Chronicle about the cuts for fear of retaliation. However, several noted the cuts are likely to reduce their hours below the level at which they remain eligible for summer unemployment benefits recently restored by the Georgia Department of Labor.
Also being eliminated are two guards assigned to help children cross to Alleluia Community School and Westminister Preparatory School, the last of two private schools in Richmond County to have publicly-funded crossing guards.
“We provide it for the public schools out of tax money,” Clayton said. “As a private school, they can assume that. It’s for a for-profit organization.”
Clayton defended the cuts as the actions of a “new administration” and acknowledged he had no idea why the guards’ wages were what they are or how long they’d been paid for the holidays. “We are under a lot of budget constraints, like everyone,” he said.
At an hour and a half of work each day, the guards took home about $5,881 annually prior to the cuts, although some might work up to three hours per day, in the mornings when school starts and the afternoons, when it lets out.
According to prior reports, the guards have been under the sheriff’s office since consolidation and instructed annually by the department to apply for summer unemployment each year due to lack of work.
Two members of the Augusta Commission, which approves the sheriff’s budget, questioned the decision’s impact on the guards, who help children ineligible for bus service because they reside within a mile of a public school and are known to be extremely dedicated, often remaining at the same crossing for decades.
“The kids get to know the school crossing guards; the parents get to know the school crossing guards,” said Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle. “You aren’t going to find 77 people if you lose them, with the checks and balances,” such as required background checks.
Commissioner Joe Jackson, who lives in the Alleluia Community scheduled to lose its school crossing guard at the end of the school year, said most of his community did pay school taxes, despite enrolling their kids in the community school.
“Really is it that bad that you can’t provide a crossing guard two hours a day?” Jackson asked. “I think they ought to be more than happy because that’s 200 students (who attend Alleluia) that aren’t enrolled in a public school.”