Parents and PTA officials reacted with disbelief this week when they returned from spring break to learn of Keene's proposal, contained in an $11 million package of city-wide cuts and new fees.
"The initial reactions, of course, are dismay and surprise," said Penny Ellson, chair of the PTA Council's Traffic Safety Committee. "Are they serious?"
"Then we get down to, 'What should we do?'"
If enacted, the loss would undercut a decade's worth of progress in getting students out of cars and onto their feet, PTA volunteers said.
Until now, the city has covered the $345,000-a-year cost for 30 crossing guards at key intersections, including Middlefield and Embarcadero roads, El Camino Real and Arastradero Road.
The guards comprise a critical piece of the "Safe Routes to School Program," built over many years by parents in cooperation with the police and schools, parents said.
"The intersections are dangerous and without crossing guards many parents will resort to driving their kids again. We plan to ask the city to reconsider this cut," PTA Council President Terry Godfrey said Thursday.
School district officials were not immediately available for comment.
Ironically, news of the proposed crossing-guard cuts hit the school community during Earth Week, a traditional showcase for "Safe Routes to School" activities.
Events at every one of Palo Alto's 17 school campuses involved sustainability, including calls for more walking and bicycling to school.
The number of Palo Alto students who bicycle or walk to school has risen steadily in the past decade, according to PTA traffic-safety volunteers.
Following surveys and "bicycle counts" on campuses last fall, the PTA Council's Traffic Safety Committee reported that 54 percent of elementary students get to school by walking, bicycling or other alternative modes of transportation compared to far fewer a decade ago.
Gunn High School's bike count last fall was 633 (33 percent of students), up from 180 (11 percent) in 1999.
At Palo Alto High School, last fall's count was 582 (32 percent of students), up from 220 (15 percent) a decade ago.
Besides Earth Week's "Walk and Roll" days in which students were urged to make special efforts to get to school under human power, elementary families were encouraged to track their "green" progress under the Drive Less Challenge.
Green teams at some elementary schools were asking families to make "Drive Less pledges."
"Driving is the biggest source of greenhouse gas pollution," a Safe Routes to School flier stated. It went on to provide statistics — parents who drive to Palo Alto schools generate two pounds of carbon dioxide each day — and asks people to multiple those emissions times the number of students, school days and years of schooling.
"Individual choices that we make can add up to climate change."
Ellson, a Fairmeadow Elementary School parent, said she is working to get information on the proposed cuts out to parents so they can participate in the city's budget hearings.
"I don't envy our City Council. They are faced with some very difficult choices," Ellson said.
"However, as they weigh alternatives, I hope they'll place a high priority on public safety, especially the safety of school commuting children."
Other proposed cuts that could affect schoolchildren include reduction in the Palo Alto Shuttle Service and cuts to the police department's Traffic Team, motorcycle police officers who patrol school routes, Ellson said.