Parents and others who want someone to direct traffic in the busy school zone at Northside Elementary School may get their wish.
A plan is being proposed for the County, the City of Smithville, and the Board of Education to share in the cost of funding the position of one crossing guard or officer to direct traffic in the mornings and afternoons for a total of approximately four hours a day, Monday through Friday, in the school zone at Northside Elementary School. County Mayor Mike Foster says the cost is estimated to be eight to nine thousand dollars per year, which could be split equally between the county, city, and school system. In addition, Foster says the school board will be asked to employ the person to do the job, preferably someone who is trained and already knows how to direct traffic.
City and county officials met Thursday evening at the courthouse to discuss the issue, including County Mayor Mike Foster, Smithville Mayor Taft Hendrixson, Smithville Alderman Steve White, Smithville Alderman/Police Commissioner Aaron Meeks, and Smithville Police Chief Randy Caplinger. Others attending were Sheriff Patrick Ray, County Commissioner/School Bus Driver Jimmy Poss, and School Transportation Manager Peggy Pursell.
Neither of the school board members nor Director of Schools Mark Willoughby were present because they were already scheduled to attend another meeting.
Mayor Hendrixson said he would place this issue on the agenda for discussion during Tuesday night's special meeting of the city council. Mayor Hendrixson and Aldermen White and Meeks seemed to indicate that they could support this proposal.
County Mayor Foster said he also thinks it's a good idea and he will present it to the county commission to get their blessing. "I think it's what we should do. I think we should join together and solve the problem that is a dangerous situation. We've got factories out there where vehicles are coming and going about the same time as the kids are. You've got a lot of traffic on that road. The other schools primarily are on five lanes of traffic and vehicles can get in and out easier. This one (Northside) is the one we get the most complaints about as the most dangerous so I think it's a good situation for everybody involved to have somebody there who can direct traffic and get them in and out quicker and more safely."
Police Chief Caplinger admits that while traffic concerns are perhaps greater at Northside Elementary than the other schools, the department has chosen to have officers run stationary radar there instead of directing traffic. " When you see a (patrol) car setting down there (Northside), the officer is running stationary radar. They are catching speeders coming into the zone and cars going out of the zone. It depends on where we're at, if we're at the high school, we sometimes do moving radar trying to slow the traffic down prior to the school zone. If the traffic is going slow when it comes into the zone, it's not as much of a problem. A lot of cars (motorists) wait until they get right at the zone until they let up and then the traffic starts backing up and some of them don't let up."
Caplinger adds that another problem the department faces is that if city police officers were assigned to direct traffic, there would most likely be times when they would be summoned to answer an emergency call or work a wreck, leaving the school zone unattended.
Director of Schools Mark Willoughby, when contacted by WJLE late Thursday night seemed less than enthusiastic about the funding proposal as it relates to the school system, and said he'd rather not make a comment at this time, but that he would make a statement later.
The sheriff's department monitors traffic in the school zone at DeKalb West School and Sheriff Ray says that will continue."We take care of the West School with the school traffic in the mornings and we try to do it most every afternoon. Until the school board or the county decides to hire a school crossing guard down there, then we'll continue to offer that service to them."
There are currently no plans to fund a crossing guard at DeKalb West.