It's not the most ideal job in the world.
You stand in the middle of the road at rush hour, rain or shine, looking out for little kids and dodging idiots who are sending text messages while they're driving.
Ask Julie Kilgore if it's dangerous to be a school crossing guard. A former guard, she now supervises them for the Charleston County Sheriff's Office. "That's the nature of the job. Our children have to do it, so we do, too." For your trouble, you might make about $7 an hour. That's OK, because you don't do it for the money.
But then, some politicians start worrying about their own jobs because property taxes might go up $4 or $5 a month. And you get your modest little part-time job threatened.
This is the thanks we show school crossing guards.
Pawns in a budget game
Charleston County Council recently asked the administration to find places to cut expenses so our poor residents won't see an extra $40 on their tax bills this year.
You know, those same people who helped cause this problem by demanding the state repeatedly cut taxes. The state was so accommodating that now the Legislature is broke and has reduced the money it sends to counties. The lesson: You're going to pay one way or another.
The county's other problem is that sales tax collections, which subsidize property tax cuts, are down. Surprise, surprise — the economy is in the toilet.
The administration responded with a four-alarm list of possible cuts: the Volunteer Rescue Squad, the library (which just made a national list of best in the country) and crossing guards.
The point is that the budget is already tight, already slated to be nearly $10 million less than last year. If council needs $10 million more, they have to make some tough decisions.
Most likely, this doomsday stuff is not going to happen. They are not going to fire crossing guards. This is political gamesmanship — they know it, reporters know it. But civilians might not realize it. People who don't normally deal with this kind of thing probably are worried about their library shutting down, their kids crossing roads without anyone watching out for them. It's inexcusable to scare people like that.
Getting priorities straight
Most of our school crossing guards, and there are about 124 of them, are retired folks. They're parents or even grandparents. They put in a lot more time than an hour before school and an hour after. They go through training — how to deal with various situations, how to manage traffic with nothing more than a stop sign in their hands.
Some people see these folks as an annoyance, just one more thing to slow them down in their nonstop, ever-busy lives. But Kilgore says her guards don't get discouraged.
"Our crossing guards take a lot of pride in what they do," Kilgore says. "They take it seriously because they know how important it is."
That's the thing. These folks make decisions based on what's safe and what's right, not what's going to win them the favor of idiots.
There's a lesson in there.