To pare down school costs, Pottstown votes to privatize crossing guards



    Cities and school districts looking to cut costs sometimes turn to third-party providers to pare down their loads — privatizing everything from substitute teachers to cafeteria services.

    This week, Pottstown Borough voted to join Manheim Borough in Lancaster County and Steelton-Highspire School District in Dauphin County in privatizing management of its crossing guard corps.

    Crossing guard positions are seasonal and part time. They also require morning and afternoon commitments during the school year that bogart more time than other part-time positions, said borough manager Mark Flanders.

    For only a couple hours of work, “it pretty much ties up your day,” he said, leading to chronic staffing shortages.

    “Historically, we’ve had a lot of trouble filling the positions,” said Flanders.

    Positions, it turned out, which cost the borough much more than expected.

    In January, an internal borough audit discovered that it was underbilling the Pottstown School District more than $80,000 a year in overhead costs for managing the crossing guards, bumping the estimated cost to pay and manage the staff from $181,000 to $267,000. The school district pays for the service, but the borough is in charge of managing and billing for it.

    Under the forthcoming one-year contract with All City Management Services, existing crossing guards will keep their jobs and won’t take a pay cut, according to Flanders.

    The Reading Eagle reported that there are 30 existing crossing guards, while Flanders said the contract will guarantee positions for 25.

    The Eagle also reported that the lack of a guarantee in writing about staffing continuity led to the only nay vote, cast by Councilman Dennis Arms.

    Between not paying for workers compensation, payroll tax and other costs associated with liability for crossing guards — as well as avoiding the hours spent by police filling in for crossing guards — Pottstown Borough anticipates saving $20,000 on crossing guards during the 2016-2017 school year.

    ACMS, headquartered in California, will be on the hook for filling in any sick or absent guards, which presents the question: how will they do it when the borough could not?

    According to the company’s vice president of operations Patricia Pohl, there’s no secret to getting more bodies on street corners.

    “It isn’t that the police department couldn’t do it,” she said. “But, it’s what’s involved in terms of the commitment, time, understanding and the process.”

    ACMS has a lot of experience managing these bodies, according to Pohl, with around 170 contracts in 14 states nationwide, including Pennsylvania.

    An ACMS contract manager will work in Pottstown, handling workforce recruitment, payroll and managerial responsibilities, Pohl said.

    “Typically people don’t come to us, we need to identify them throughout the community,” she said.

    None of Pottstown Borough’s existing crossing guards contacted granted requests for comment.

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