Conflict resolved: City votes to fund crossing guard
The DeSoto City Council finally ended the ongoing crosswalk controversy last Thursday amidst calls for better communication between the city and the Desoto School District.
With only Councilman John Taylor dissenting, the council agreed to employ a guard to man a crosswalk near Lexington Trails Middle School for the 2000-2001 school year. While it can only fund the position for this year, the council did agree providing the crosswalk guard was the city's responsibility.
The decision came after the DeSoto School Board earlier in the week rejected a proposal to split the cost of employing a crossing guard with the city for the 2000-2001 school year. Councilman Linda Zindler had sought and gained support for the same proposal from her fellow council members earlier in the month.
The council's decision also came on the day school children in DeSoto brought home fliers from the PTA urging parents to attend the city council meeting in support of the school district's position.
"There is power in numbers. We need many parents to attend the meeting and show your city council that this is an important issue, and that you expect the council to fulfill the city's obligation," the flier stated.
The letter upset Councilman Duke Neeland. Had parents or school board members called him and other council members, they would have known the city council would vote to provide the estimated $4,000 needed to employ a crosswalk guard for the remainder of the year, he said.
"I'm totally for our kids," Neeland said. "I think the safety of our children and residents should be one our first concerns.
"I think this was a little premature," he said of the PTA letter. "I didn't get one call from a parent or a school board member."
Commissioners Brad Seaman and Tim Maniez agreed the school district could have handled the situation better.
"I seriously doubt any of them (school board members) thought about calling us," Seaman said.
Councilman Linda Zindler said communication has improved since a joint committee of her, Seaman, two school board members, Superintendent Marilyn Layman and city economic development director Marge Morse has started meeting regularly. Zindler said she was partially to blame for the latest misunderstanding because she asked the council vote on the split-cost proposal without explaining that the school board members on the joint committee couldn't approve the plan but only present it to the full school board.
The school board later rejected the proposal because it didn't absolve the district of liability in the event of an accident at the crosswalk, and because it has no authority to budget for the expense.
That message was relayed to Zindler after the school board's meeting, said board member Sandy Thierer. She said she called Zindler the morning after the school board meeting explaining why the district couldn't support the cost split and the parent organizations would probably get involved.
Thierer said she also called Zindler the day of the council meeting and told her to expect company at the meeting.
The Starside PTA put out the flier not the school district, Thierer said. The district reviews material the PTA distributes from schools for obscenity, inflammatory rhetoric or discriminatory language, but has no control over the editorial content.
"I understand why Duke would be upset," Thierer said. "I truly believe Duke has been supportive in making (the district and city) work together."
Board members didn't call city council members because it's understood it's the job of joint committee members to keep their fellow councilmen or board members informed, Thierer said.
The joint committee allows the city and district's representative to discuss issues and their possible solutions to take back to their respective bodies, she said. Since only two elected officials are represented from each body, the discussions can be conducted without fear of violating the state's open meeting statute, which could be a concern if all board members and councilmen were involved in the discussion.
The city council and Mayor Steve Prudden suggested the joint committee for that purpose, she added.
"It's a big time improvement," Thierer said. "We were on a path to totally work against each other. I think we've made a great deal of improvement of understanding where we're each coming from."
In his dissent, Councilman John Taylor insisted state statute made the school district responsible for students' safety from home to school. He asked City Attorney Patrick Reavey to research the matter, but was overruled by the rest of the council.
"I think we need to fall in line with the rest of Johnson County and do this," Neeland said.