KNIVES MAY COME OUT DURING NEXT COUNCIL SESSION
By STEVEN TAVARES
Michael Fitzgerald could be a hero for both a San Leandro child and for the city when he grabbed a school child from in front of a speeding car subbing for his wife on the 3 p.m. shift Monday afternoon.
“Had I not had the day off, I guarantee that little boy would have been hit today and, most likely, the subsequent lawsuit would have by far exceeded the amount you would have had to pay,” Fitzgerald told the city council during a finance meeting last Monday.
Many San Leandro residents like Fitzgerald and his wife have been thrust into a volunteer effort at area schools since budget cuts left school crossing guards on the cutting room floor. The council is slated to face a vocal group of angry parents next Monday at its scheduled meeting if last week's words are any indication.
A plan to reinstate some form of the crossing guard program by the city school board was offered Sept. 22 with a “donation” of $25,000 to be matched by the city and hopes to alleviate the public relations fiasco for the time being.
The service, a public safety issue usually covered by the city, has become another in a line of contentious quality of life issues the council and mayor have been confronted this year after a once-comfortable budget surplus was slowly eaten away by the current recession, but that talking point fell flat on some residents who believe keeping their children safe at a cost of $100,000 is nominal.
“If a student is hit by a car the court of public opinion is going to come to this body and I hope your consciences are clear because this is a very important decision you have made,” said Geoff Landreau, who's child recently started kindergarten this year.
Former School Board Trustee Stephen Cassidy, who is exploring a run for mayor in 2010 faulted the council's inability to locate what he said amounted to 1/8 of 1 percent of the city's budget. “The safety of children should be amongst the highest priorities,” he said. “I cannot believe money cannot be found.”
Notice of the city's cuts to crossing guards has been known for months without much discussion until summer vacation began to wind down. San Leandro City Councilman Michael Gregory assured residents the city has not been ignoring their voices. “I don't believe this body has been slack on this,” said Gregory, but added “I encourage all of us to ask what can you do at this point. This is a glaring example of entitlement and kids safety is at stake here, so let's pull together on this.”
In addition to Gregory, councilmembers Jim Prola, Diana Souza and Bill Stephens also raised the theme of community involvement on issues confronting the city within rough economic times such as these. Some parents, though, expressed being overburdened by volunteering for yet another services which was once paid by their tax dollars. “I'm exhausted” said one speaker who helped kids cross the street early that morning after a scheduled mix-up left no one manning the street.
In what appeared to be a conciliatory gesture towards his possible mayoral opponent, Santos proposed using Cassidy's suggestion to form a community committee of more diversity to offer up solutions to the city's economic woes. “We do need very serious public input and understanding about what is going on in the community,” said Santos. “It might be a very good idea to get the community to come together and prioritize some of the suggestions around the city so we can reduce some of the friction that is going on.”
When it comes to friction, no amount of chumminess will prevent what will likely be a larger-than-expected group of worried and angry parents next Monday night.
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