At the end of the year, Tiffin no longer will have a service in place to provide crossing guards for area students, a service cut that is becoming more common throughout the area, and maybe a sign of things to come.
Tiffin Mayor Aaron Montz said the program, historically a function of the city, has to be terminated Dec. 31 because a grant through the National Machinery Foundation is no longer available next year.
"I don't fault them for cutting it, and I can't thank them enough for doing it. I can't believe they funded it for three years," Montz said, adding he hopes the funding can be used for other worthwhile area projects.
Montz said he has fond memories of crossing at Six's Corners in his youth, and fought for the program in his first year on council. Montz said that while he felt it was wrong to eliminate the program four years ago, the cost is unjustified in the city's fiscal state, which includes a $1 million cut in Local Government Funds from the state and a potential $600,000 shortfall in 2013.
"We have to make up the money the state has eliminated from our budget," he said. "We think we can get through this year without any layoffs, but next year, there is no way to cut the city budget without layoffs. When you look at the different departments and what they're standing to lose, we can't justify crossing guards."
Montz said the program costs about $50,000 a year, and an additional $10,000 for unemployment throughout the summer.
With the loss of funding, Montz said he turned to Tiffin City Schools Superintendent Don Coletta to see whether the schools could take over the program.
"We feel as the city that it is the school's responsibility to pay for crossing guards, because the vast majority of the schools in the area and in the state of Ohio, the schools do pay for it," Montz said. "And I know they are having budget crunches as well; it's not like we're saying the school isn't paying for it because they don't want to. ... the state eliminated money from their budget as well."
And even with an operating levy victory in March and cuts by way of restructuring the district, Coletta said the schools continue to face financial hardship.
"The money was not to provide additional programming, but to maintain the programming that was going to remain after the cuts," he said.
"From a budget standpoint, we continue to be in a very difficult situation, and certainly we would like to provide all the programs people would like to see, however that is just not possible. We have to do our best to maintain our mission, which is in instruction and the learning process."
As the schools reorganized, a decision was made after the levy passage for a new busing plan, which transported students grades K-8 who live a half-mile or more from the school to which they were assigned. The program does not provide transportation for high school students.
The new plan transports more than twice as many students as in years past, expanding to more than 1,200 this year, at a cost of $118,000. The plan, passed by the school board with a 4-1 vote, is in place for one year, and Coletta said is being "reviewed on a daily basis."
With the new bus program in place and bus stops within a half-mile of students' home, fewer people are using the crossing guard service than before, Montz said.
In comparison, he said Six's Corners recently averaged about 10 students a day, compared to about 100 who used the path to get to their neighborhood school before.
Tiffin is not alone in seeing the service changed or cut. In neighboring counties, the cities of Findlay and Fostoria no longer fund crossing guard programs, which are now a function of the school districts.
Fostoria Mayor Eric Keckler said the schools have covered the program for years.
In Findlay, Lincoln Elementary School is the only to have a program, which utilizes an adult crossing guard to cover the intersection of Main and Lincoln streets and a program in which 5th-graders assist younger students across smaller roads.
Scott Marcum, principal at Lincoln, said the program works well for the school, which has a "great need" for it. He said the adult crossing guard is paid for and hired through the Parent Teacher Organization, not using taxpayer funds.
Norwalk and Bowling Green also have crossing guard programs, jointly funded by the city and schools.
In Norwalk, the city budgets $20-25,000 annually for crossing guards, of which the school system reimburses half. Norwalk Safety Service Director Mark Schloemer said the program has been in place at least 40 years.
John Fawcett, Bowling Green municipal administrator, said the program had been covered exclusively through the city until 2009, when it was reduced in size and covered through the two organizations equally.
As was the case when the program was funded through a grant, Montz said he hopes there will be a program of some kind during the next school year, ideally with volunteers through a local organization not connected to the city.
But he added there is no possibility for the return of crossing guards under the city's guidance if there is not an increase in tax revenue to offset the budget crunch.
"I think it's just one of the many things people will feel the pinch of if this (quarter percent income tax) levy doesn't pass," Montz said. "I don't think they'll see the need for the levy until it fails."