DALLAS - Dallas city staff told council members on Wednesday they were blindsided by news they would need to take over administration of crossing guards this school year.
Thousands of students in Dallas rely on crossing guards to make sure they get to school safely, but it's unclear who will pay wages for those guards come Feb. 1.
"This is a mess, this is an absolute mess that we did not create,” said councilman Casey Thomas.
Voters dissolved the financially mismanaged agency known as Dallas County Schools in November. DCS provided bus service to several school districts, but under a special agreement with the City of Dallas it also provided crossing guards.
"What caught us by surprise was the notice they would cease the operation by Jan. 31,” said assistant city manager Jon Fortune. “That gave us a short window to prepare and develop plans to move forward."
That includes suing DCS for money the city says the bus agency owes for those crossing guards. Some of the funds were collected from tickets to drivers who violated bus stop signs.
"We have an obligation to provide safety for children, which I hope the judge will see as a priority over paying other debts,” councilman Lee Kleinman said.
The city estimates it will cost $4.4 million to pay for crossing guards next year -- money that is not in the city's budget.
"We're going to get hosed on this. We are so, we have to raise revenue,” said councilman Mark Clayton.
One way to generate revenue would be having Dallas County impose a $1.50 vehicle registration fee. But Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said that's a non-starter.
"There is not support on the Commissioners Court at this time to impose a new fee on car registrations. The county remains committed to continuing to work with the DCS dissolution committee, the cities, and all our partners to ensure an effective transition from DCS to new service providers," Jenkins said.
Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said the city is in a tough spot, but it should keep working on the crossing guard issue.
"Look this is an ugly situation that we're in. But in some ways I'm very glad we're starting to resolve this. Terrible rot in this organization. I supported dissolution of DCS it was the right thing to do, and we're seeing why it was the right thing to do,” Rawlings said.
The mayor and several city council members said they feel the city needs a seat at the table of the committee now dissolving Dallas County Schools. The mayor said he'll request that the state give the city one.