HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, FL — Hillsborough County parents sent their children back to school Monday morning with assurances that public schools students will be safer inside and on route to school.
Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister was on hand at Buchanan Middle School at 1001 W. Bearss Ave., Tampa, before the 9:25 a.m. first bell to greet some of the newly hired crossing guards who have been added to every middle school in Hillsborough County this school year.
Hillsborough County is the first county in Florida to assign crossing guards to busy crosswalks outside all middle schools.
The move came after a contingent of concerned parents appealed to the Hillsborough County Commission last spring.
As a cost-savings measure, in December 2016, the Hillsborough County School Board voted to eliminate courtesy busing for 7,500 high school and middle school students who live within two miles of their schools. School board member Melissa Snively cast the lone vote against the measure, arguing that it would put students on busy roads with no sidewalks or crosswalks.
“Normally, I’m fiscally conservative when it comes to the budget but there are some things I don’t think we need to compromise on and this is one of them,” said Snively.
As Snively predicted, the elimination of courtesy buses last year resulted in students walking on the shoulders of busy roads where no sidewalks were available and dodging heavy commuter traffic to cross roads. Desperate parents began digging into their own pockets to hire private crossing guards to ensure their children got safely to and from school.
Chronister, whose office oversees the school crossing guard program, and County Commissioner Stacy White joined parents in April to convince the county commission to provide $510,000 to expand the crossing guard program.
“The sheriff’s office has worked tirelessly over the last few months to make sure an increased staff of crossing guards would be trained and ready to serve in local communities beginning Aug. 12, the first day back to school,” said Chronister. “The safety of students as they head to and from school is a top priority for our office. We have gone to local job fairs, talked to community groups and advertised online in search of the best people to protect our children this year.”
In all, the sheriff’s office hired 91 new crossing guards for 37 middle schools and 11 elementary schools, 24 new supervisors and two new community service aides to help recruit, administer and oversee the program. The sheriff’s office is still trying to fill 55 vacancies.
For anyone interested in a job as a crossing guard, visit the sheriff’s office career page. The part-time job pays $11.86 an hour.
The school district has made changes to protect students inside public schools as well.
In addition to posting armed security guards trained in active shooter scenarios at every public school, as mandated by a 2018 state law, the Hillsborough County School District unveiled a new high-tech security system that will make it easier and faster for teachers and staff to call for help in an emergency and ensure that every student and staff member is notified of an emergency no matter where they are on campus.
The school district has also renovated the main entrances at five high schools — Hillsborough, Jefferson, Plant City, Chamberlain and Leto high schools — so that no one can enter the school campuses without checking in at the main office.
Now, visitors must be buzzed in and must show an ID that will be scanned into the school’s computer system.
Using funding provided by the half-cent sales tax approved by voters last fall, the school district also spent $34,000 to replace the security system at Greco Middle School; $15,000 for security fencing at Mango Elementary School; and $5,766 for an access control system at Bloomingdale High School.
Within the next five years, tax funds will be used to upgrade security at the following schools:
- Ballast Point Elementary School
- Benito Middle School
- Bloomingdale High School
- Brewster Technical School
- Buckhorn Elementary
- DeSoto Elementary School
- Essrig Elementary School
- Leto High School
- Mabry Elementary School
- Madison Middle School
- Memorial Middle School
- Robles Elementary School
- Seminole Elementary School
- Stewart Middle School
- Tampa Palms Elementary School
- Temple Terrace Elementary School
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