Montgomery County Crossing Guards Work on Easy Street

By Kriston Capps
|  Thursday, Oct 21, 2010  |  Updated 4:18 PM EDT
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Montgomery County Crossing Guards Work on Easy Street

A crossing guard in Garfield, N.J.

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It's not bad work if you can get it -- but it's not much work, which in thise case is as much a boon as a drawback.

Montgomery County taxpayers will pay $4.6 million this year for the county's 177 crossing guards, which comes to $26,000 each including benefits, the Examiner reported yesterday. The work, however, is in reality part time. Most crossing guards work two and a half hours a day. They may work as few hours as a half-hour in the morning and another half-hour in the afternoon, at a rate of $40 an hour.

Plus benefits.

That the part-time position includes benefits makes it one of the county's most popular jobs in the workforce, the Examiner says. The wait list for the crossing guard position is now a few hundred deep.

The Examiner reports that Montgomery County faces drastic budget cuts as well as layoffs for 100 firefighters.

In times of recession, good employment deals may seem like zero-sum arrangements: A crossing guard who benefits must necessarily do so at another worker's expense. Or at the expense of someone who has no job or benefits. This is especially true when a municipality is facing budget cuts.

Pricing the value of the work of a crossing guard, then, is subject to concerns over fairness. Crossing guards interviewed by the Examiner appreciate the work. The Examiner says these same crossing guards admit that they got their jobs through personal connections -- without giving any specific examples -- and hangs scare quotes on the word of the police that they hire the "most qualified" people for the positions.

The Examiner does not seem to deem the work worth $40 an hour. And, by comparison, Fairfax County pays 64 crossing guards hourly wages between $12.80 and $21.34, and commits benefits to those crossing guards who take on a second job that enables them to work 20 hours per week.

But it would be a depressing exercise to determine the minimum pay that some worker would accept to work as a crossing guard -- a job whose responsibility, at the end of the day, is over the wellbeing of schoolchildren. The market might find workers who were willing to accept less than minimum wage for the work (it would seem so, given the waiting list). The county might save money by slashing the hourly rate or discontinuing the benefits. But as authorities in the story relate, the responsibility belongs to a higher paygrade, and the benefits make the position attractive to qualified candidates.

There is such a thing as paying crossing guards too much. Montgomery County may be doing so. But even that is not nearly so scandalous as the notion that the county should cut its budget by slashing the health care benefits that make these government jobs attractive.

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