Los Angeles city workers and community leaders on Tuesday urged the city to hire more crossing guards to protect students as they walk to and from school in the wake of a report revealing a drastic drop in crosswalk staffing.
"The need for crossing guards has not declined, it has only increased," Cheryl Parisi, chair of the Coalition of LA City Unions, said at a press conference held as LAUSD students headed to their first day of class.
About 363 crossing guards are employed by the city in 2014, from a peak of 576 in 2008, according to a report released Tuesday by Fix LA, a coalition of city workers and community organizations advocating a restoration of city services that have been cut since the 2008 recession.
After their morning workshift, dozens of crossing guards gathered outside city hall. By the time they moved inside to council chambers, their ranks had swelled to nearly one hundred.
During the public comment period, council members were scolded by Parisi for not reversing the decline in crossing guard staffing levels. Parisi said that students were "not being provided safe and secure passage" and that the city council was "not doing well."
There was no specific agenda item dealing with the crossing guards issue. But after the meeting, two council members told NBC4 they also are concerned by the crossing guard staffing decline.
"There simply are too many schools without crossing guards," said Councilman Paul Krekorian.
Fix LA says 1/3 of intersections around Los Angeles elementary schools are unguarded.
The number of guards is a 10-year low for the city and a 37 percent drop since 2008. During budget struggles, the city stopped hiring replacements even for retirees.
Margarita Portillo, a mother who takes her 6- and 7-year-old children to Toluca Lake Elementary School in North Hollywood every morning, said there is no crossing guard on the busy Cahuenga Boulevard outside the school.
"There used to be one, but years ago," Portillo said Tuesday. "Even though there is a traffic light there, I am very worried about the fast traffic that goes by. I worry that somebody might run the light and that somebody might get hurt."
Children aged 5 to 17 account for almost a fifth of pedestrian deaths and severe injuries in the city, according to a March report from the LA Department of Transportation, the city agency that provides crossing guards at LAUSD schools.
“I think one of the things that we want to be looking at as we go through the budget year is where can we effect some savings so we can add back more crossing guards,” said Councilman Mike Bonin.
According to Fix LA, 169 of more than 500 intersections that the Department of Transportation said qualifies for school crossing guards are unstaffed.
"Fix LA and the Coalition of LA City Unions recommend that the City staff busy intersections at middle schools as well as elementary schools to help ensure the safety of our children," the organizations said in a statement.
The typical crossing guard earns $13,565 a year, according to the coalitions, and usually works a split shift to cover morning arrivals and afternoon departures. An incentive pay program to compensate for the split shift ended when the contract expired at the end of June.
In February, a 42-year-old mother was killed in a big rig crash at an intersection near Joseph Le Conte Middle School in Hollywood. The woman was walking her 9-year-old daughter to school. The girl was hurt in the crash.
The intersection was described by a parent as "very hectic" and the accident prompted the city to assign an interim crossing guard there for the rest of the school year.
Calls to the Department of Transportation for comment were not immediately returned.
Patrick Healy contributed to this report.