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Southeast Queens schools need more security guards

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Schools in southeast Queens may face an acute shortage of crossing guards and safety officers in September as new schools and heavy cuts in the city budget stretch thinning resources, police officials told a District 29 safety meeting Tuesday in Rosedale.

"We have three new schools opening up without new crossing guards, and some of us feel there weren't enough as it is," said Timothy James, first vice president of School Board 29.

Kevin McGrath, commanding officer of crossing guards in the 105th Precinct, said low pay was one factor that made it hard to retain personnel.

"You have people retiring, leaving the state, and to get a new class in is difficult, so that's where you're losing the people," McGrath said.

District 29 stretches from Queens Village to Rochdale Village, covering schools in Rosedale, Laurelton, Springfield Gardens and parts of Jamaica.

Schools scheduled to open next year include PS 268 on Merrick Boulevard and PS 270 on Jamaica Avenue - both busy thoroughfares where crossing guards are indispensable. A third school, IS/PS 208, opening on the Glen Oaks campus, will not require crossing guards because all students will be bused, District 29 Superintendent Michael Johnson said.

McGrath and his counterparts at the 103rd and 113th precincts said that they had all of their "A" posts - the most important crossing areas at each school - covered at the present time. In a worst-case scenario, they would move personnel from the "B" posts to cover "A" posts at the new schools.

But all present agreed that one crossing guard per school was not sufficient in many cases.

Gertrude Gonesh of Springfield Gardens said of PS 15 in St. Albans: "They are running for their lives to cross the street" as trucks barrel down Farmers Boulevard onto 122nd Avenue.

And each moment of delay spelled danger for children, Johnson warned.

"To wait for a kid to get hit, that's not the way to do it," he said.

Whether crossing guards would be hired or reassigned to staff posts at the new schools was an issue that was out of the hands of the local precincts, McGrath said.

Meanwhile, inside the schools the situation was no better, safety officers said.

Manager Dario Negron, the commanding officer for school safety in Queens South, told the board that the precincts were losing school safety officers faster than they could be replaced.

In addition to 15 pregnancies and 10 military leaves, numerous injuries and several resignations had taken their toll on his staff, which usually numbers about 500, he said.

A new class is scheduled to graduate from the two-month training course on May 11, but those officers - about 130 - will be divided among all the city's needy schools, and no subsequent classes were scheduled.

Negron said he had requested 30 officers from the most recent graduating class but admitted he could easily use 50 or 60.

However many he gets, Negron said he would have to split them among all the schools encompassed by the Queens South command - an area that covers Districts 28 and 29 in southeast Queens, and small portions of Districts 24 in western Queens as well as Districts 25 and 26 in northeast Queens. The area includes nine new schools, three of which are high schools.

But Negron did promise that every school would have at least one security officer.

"That's a guarantee until I have to exhaust my whole task force," he told the board.

Reach reporter Alex Ginsberg by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 157.

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