CMS crossing guards concerned about pay cut

Crossing guards who shepherd students across busy roads to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools campuses will likely have less in their paychecks this year after the district switched the contract to a new company.

For three years, crossing guards had made $15 an hour under the school district’s contract with Park Inc. CMS brought in a new company for this school year that pays $10 an hour, and hired most of the former company’s crossing guards.

CMS stands to save more than $30,000 this year by switching. But some of the district’s 47 crossing guards have complained about the significant pay cut.

None of the crossing guards were counting on big paychecks. Most only work a few hours per day. Still, crossing guards tend to be retired people or college students who use the job to help make ends meet. A $15 per hour wage has also been a flash point for labor activists in recent months, who have organized protests and job walk-offs at fast-food restaurants across the country, including in Charlotte.

Several crossing guards quit because of the pay cut, and it caused grumbling among others.

“I like everything except the pay,” said Jimmy Greene, 80, who has been a crossing guard at Charlotte schools since 1989. He helps students cross in the mornings and afternoons at two schools, Lebanon Road Elementary and Idlewild Elementary, and counts on the money he earns to get by in retirement.

“I don’t know whether I can make it or not,” he said. “I’ve got bills. I still got a car payment and a repair bill on my car that I pay off every month.”

Crossing guards man intersections in 40 locations across the city, though some schools have multiple guards. Schools or parent groups can request that the district provide a guard. The Charlotte Department of Transportation must evaluate whether one is warranted, based on traffic speed and volume on the road.

State law requires guards to go through at least three hours of training. Most guards work half-hour or 45-minute shifts each morning and afternoon, though some guards can man multiple schools.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department handled the responsibility for crossing guards for years until 2011, when the city of Charlotte said it would no longer be able to pay amid broader budget cuts.

CMS then contracted with Park Inc., which promised a $15 per hour pay wage. Most of the guards transferred from the police department to the new company.

The transition wasn’t completely smooth. With the police department, guards had certain benefits, including paid mileage if a guard worked outside his assigned zone, and appreciation banquets. Those went away with the new company.

The district paid $250,349.10 last year to Park Inc., which is based in Charlotte, according to the contract.

The contract was rebid this year because CMS decided to move the crossing guard duties from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Police to Safety Director Kevin Earp. Earp said he felt it was time to put the contract back out for bids because it had been several years since it was last bid, and only one company had bid the first time.

After the initial bids, Earp said Parking Unlimited, also based in Charlotte, came in with the lowest price, at $218,680, according to the contract.

Bill Dillard, CEO of Parking Unlimited, said his company was upfront with the school district about what it would pay crossing guards. His company manages traffic during Carolina Panthers NFL games and events at Time Warner Cable Arena, and its 700 part-time workers all make roughly the same $10 an hour crossing guards earn.

“The priority, of course, was to have the lowest bid,” said Earp, who said he hasn’t heard any complaints about the pay change. “I was hoping the guards would make out a little bit in this.”

There are some benefits for the guards from the new company. Crossing guards were outfitted with new equipment, including neon green jackets that are more visible to motorists.

Crossing guards who work 45 minutes will also now be paid for a full hour, instead of being paid solely for their time spent working. At the same time, more shifts have been extended to 45 minutes, from 30 minutes. That means some guards might receive the same amount in their paychecks as they had been, or more, said Tamara Davis, who has supervised the crossing guard program for 10 years, and is now a Parking Unlimited employee. She also said guards should receive raises next year.

“I’m probably more elated than I’ve ever been,” Davis said, who previously worked for Park Inc. and the police department. “This is a brand-new contract. There’s going to be some bumps in the road.”

She said she called each crossing guard individually when the new company was selected to explain the situation. Two quit, and a few others told her they would try to make it work, she said.

Greene said he was one of them.

“If I can make it, I’d be more than happy to stay,” he said. “I don’t know.”