Ayers Elementary School can be found at 5120 Myrtle Drive, a residential area tucked inside the southeastern boundary of Concord. The two-lane road is lightly traveled, except for two times a day -- the 15 minutes before first bell and the 15 minutes after school lets out.
At those times, with 500 schoolchildren scrambling to enter or leave and vehicles dropping off or picking up, the scene resembles a mass-transit hub for little people. What troubles Principal Charla Hernandez is that this transpires daily without a crossing guard.
Oh, there's a brightly striped crosswalk in front of the school, marked with warning signs in the middle of the street -- "School: Yield within crosswalk to pedestrians" -- and a reference to state law, but no uniformed authority figure on hand to ensure that drivers adhere.
Back in the day, when Beaver Cleaver walked to Miss Landers' class, this job might have fallen to older classmates dressed in brightly colored vests and barking commands. At least, that's the way it was done at my school back in the dark ages.
Nowadays, the task generally is contracted out to professionals for a fee. That's the way Concord has handled things since 2003. It pays $90,000 a year for 10 crossing guards at "strategic locations" throughout the city. Inasmuch as there are 15 public elementary schools in Concord, not every school gets one.
The most worrisome time at Ayers, Hernandez said, is the morning, when workday commuters are added to the traffic flow. ("There are a lot of people these days who seem to be in a big hurry," she said, "and they're ignoring the traffic laws.") Her solution, so far, has been to do things herself.
"I try to be out there as much as possible then," she said. "It's a wonderful opportunity to say good morning to my kids and families."
Still, it's not a permanent answer. Principals can hardly be expected to double as crossing guards. That's why she sought out parent volunteers, a number of whom stepped forward. But even that idea comes with a drawback. Or, at least, a question: If volunteers take on the responsibility of youngsters' safety, do they also take on liability for any accidents?
This is the primary reason why Hernandez's plan has not yet been approved by the Mt. Diablo School District. In an age of limitless litigation, and in a state where lawsuits are cranked out like sausages, school officials are understandably wary of all liabilities, even where good deed-doers are concerned.
Discussion is ongoing, but don't expect a quick resolution. Before the superintendent, general counsel and trustees can digest an issue, it usually requires a lot of chewing.
The topic is of broader concern than Ayers because of a Concord City Council measure adopted last June. In a move to address the city's structural financial deficit, the council voted to discontinue full funding of crossing guards after the 2012-13 school year. Funds are to be reduced by 50 percent the following year and then eliminated.
Responsibility for crossing guards would then fall to the school district, unless ...
Well, there is a chance the council could rethink its decision. Since the June motion, Dan Helix has been installed as mayor, and he has been the strongest advocate for crossing guard services.
Not long ago, he was saying the first priority of government is providing for people. Who needs more providing than little guys trying to get across the street?
Contact Tom Barnidge at email@example.com.