Overland Park & Leawood

Stilwell Elementary is in a pinch over crossing guard

A legal misunderstanding has left Johnson County officials scrambling to get a crossing guard for Stilwell Elementary School in time for the first day of classes Thursday.

The county is looking for a guard for families walking across the busy 199th Street to the school, which is at 199th and Lamar Avenue. Because of the lateness in the summer, volunteers may be sought until a guard can be found, said County Manager Hannes Zacharias.

As of Tuesday afternoon the problem hadn’t been solved, said Danny Lenz, assistant to the county manager. The county will have someone in place by Thursday even if it is a temporary volunteer, he said.

The problem stems from an earlier misreading of Kansas law regarding who can pay for school crossing guards. State statute gives school districts, counties and cities authority to raise money and pay for the guards.

But Stilwell Elementary is in an unincorporated area. In fact, it is the only elementary school in unincorporated Johnson County and one of very few in Kansas that would need a guard, officials said. Township trustee boards, such as the one governing Stilwell, are not included in the state law.

The Blue Valley School District doesn’t hire crossing guards. They are normally paid for by the cities.

For years, officials of Aubry Township, which includes Stilwell, have hired a crossing guard under the impression they had authority to do so. But this year, on double-checking, the township trustees were told on June 11 that they cannot.

The trustees asked the county to step in for this year, while they seek a change in the statute’s wording. The County Commission agreed, with the understanding that the arrangement is for the 2013-14 school year only and that the county would be reimbursed.

All City Management Services had offered to find a guard for about $6,400, but withdrew its bid last week because officials there did not believe they could employ someone by the first day of school, county officials said.

Stilwell Elementary has about 350 students from preschool through fifth grade. The traffic on 199th Street is heavy, and the Blue Valley district supports a guard there, said Dan Carney, director of safety and security for the district. “From where I sit, the more crossing guards, the better,” he said.

Meanwhile, Kansas House Speaker Ray Merrick has already filed for a change in the law to allow townships to pay for crossing guards.

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