By Sue Botos
It’s not certain whether a recent rash of sick calls by school crossing guards is related to their dissatisfaction over the city’s decision to trim their hours. But Superintendent Michael Shoaf promises parents that critical intersections will be covered, either by other guards or by police personnel.
“The (police) chief called (personnel director) Sam (Gifford) and identified six key areas which will be covered in light of the call-offs,” Shoaf stated at last week’s sSchool board meeting. “We will communicate as best we can and work as closely as we can with the city.”
Parents will be kept aware of the situation via e-mail and the schools’ website, according to Shoaf. “Being able to bus Goldwood is good, so the little kids don’t have to walk, and the older kids know what they have to do,” he added.
Shoaf said he was not aware that the “sick-out” was related to the controversy over crossing-guard salaries. At a meeting in September, the guards were informed by police Chief Kelly Stillman and Mayor Pam Bobst that their hours would be reduced from 25 to 15 hours per week with no pay adjustment. This amounts to a cut in pay from $8,000 to $5,000 per year. It also adds up to an $80,000 savings for the city, which will be returned to the police department.
The move was in response to a request for an extended medical leave, which would have required the city to pay for 25 hours of sick time per week. The request was granted and substitutes filled the post, but Bobst and Stillman decided that the five-hour-a-day pay was too much for the shifts that typically last about one to one and a half hours in the morning and afternoon.
The guards protested that, at $9.56 an hour, they were already the lowest paid in the area, and the move would amount to a 40-percent cut.
Stillman said that six of 23 guards who called in on Dec. 15 an “unusual” number. “One had a foot issue, and I’m not sure about the others,” commented Stillman, adding that four guards reported in sick on Dec. 16.
“In our eyes, the issue is resolved. There is nothing we can do. They want more money and the city is in no position to give them more,” he said. The city is still trying to balance the 2012 budget and, for the first time in about five years, does not expect to have it done by year’s end.
When asked if any of her fellow guards did take off in protest or actually due to illness, crossing guard Sharon Trnavsky responded, “It was a combination, if you want my opinion.” She added that the call-ins were not planned, and that some of the guards may have been trying to use any accumulated sick time before they lost it.
“It’s ugly,” Trnavsky said of the situation. She said that the guards were told everything would stay as it is, and no adjustments would be made. She also recalled that on Dec. 15, she was asked to move from her post at Detroit and Lakeview Roads to Lakeview and Riverview Ave. “I was walking to my post and a police officer stopped me and told me I would be moved to a more important spot,” Trnavsky said. She noted that her usual post had a traffic light, and the Lakeview/Riverview intersection did not.
Trnavsky, as well as guard Laura Michael, have admitted to actively seeking other employment. “I’ve been putting in applications without much success,” said Michael recently by phone. She added that the guards were discouraged by the outcome of a recent meeting with city officials during which she, Trnavsky and Chuck Jirsa, representing the guards, were told that things would stand pat.
Michael added that many of the other guards have adopted a defeated attitude. “They expected it. You can’t fight city hall,” she stated.
Asked about the apparent “sick-out,” Michael responded, “I really would doubt that the guards I know would call in just because they’re mad. We have an obligation to the kids.”