Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared Feb. 2, but has been expanded to include a pilot podcast, capturing time Staff Writer Jacob Posner spent with Debbie Mason at the crosswalk where she is stationed.
Crossing guards in Haverhill will receive a wage increase from $15 to $17 per hour effective Feb. 5.
Thanks to the raise, crossing guard Debbie Mason told WHAV she will not have to find more hours as a lunch monitor or a similar position in the district. It would have been disruptive to work more because, on top of the 15 hours a week at an intersection near the Golden Hill and Dr. Paul C. Nettle Schools, she said she spends the bulk of her time taking care of people.
“I take care of my husband all the time,” she said. “My sister-in-law doesn’t drive so I drive her where she needs to go. And, you know, you just need the money coming into the house,” she said.
She added that much of her time has gone to getting her father’s affairs in order after he recently passed away. Along with a general increase in prices and property taxes in recent years, she said her father’s death meant the taxes on his house no longer receive his senior’s and veteran’s discounts.
The Committee voted unanimously on the change after a guard approached Vice Chair Paul A. Magliocchetti while he was checking out at Market Basket.
“He was not completely satisfied, and he was concerned because he didn’t feel we had enough crossing guards, and he informed me that part of the reason was the pay,” Magliocchetti said. “They’re among the lowest paid in the district.”
The pay bump will not impact negotiations with other low-paid employees, according to Magliocchetti. Assistant Superintendent Michael J. Pfifferling told the committee the $2 per hour increase will cost the district just under $31,000, money already available in the budget.
While the city’s 18 crossing guard positions are currently full, Pfifferling told WHAV a new hire would receive training and join the substitute list. They could then receive a permanent posting if a slot opened up in the future.
“People get ill or need time out for certain reasons, so even if your flexibility is not five days a week, get on our substitute list, and [you’ll] see different kids every day,” he said.
Member Mikaela D. Lalumiere encouraged residents to take the job. “Anybody who has time in the morning, in the afternoon, you’re retired, you have any kind of flexibility in your schedule, and you want to do something really meaningful, that’s tangible, that can help our kids, this is a great way to help keep our kids safe,” she said. “It’s one of the only jobs you’re ever going to have where everyone who sees you is going to be really happy to see you.”
Mason would be the first to agree. She joked she almost got a bumper sticker saying she has 500 children. Over the past 11 years she has worked this intersection, she said she has become a “fixture,” with many commuters, parents and children all waving to her as they pass in cars.
“Sometimes I dance with them. Sometimes I sing with them. Friday is happy dance Friday for me and my kids,” she said, demonstrating the dance and laughing. “One kid used to come down skipping all the time, so I started trying to skip, and I almost broke my neck.”
In an ideal world, Mason said she would have appreciated $20 per hour. Not only would it help with her own expenses, but she said it would allow her to buy kids sneakers, jackets and backpacks, which she has done in the past.
“It’s going to help. You know, anything will help at this point,” she said. “It would’ve been nice to be more, but I’ll take what I can get when I can. Because we’ve always been one of the lowest paid, and we’re out here in the middle of the street with all of the drivers that are already aggressive.”
She continued, “I love my job. I don’t want to lose it. I don’t want people to get mad at me, so I’d be happy with it, as it is, for now.”
Standing at the edge of the crosswalk, commuters blow by. She often has to walk out into a steady stream of traffic to help kids cross.