Over the last couple of years the Buffalo Public School District has been trying to hire more school bus aides. WBFO's senior reporter Eileen Buckley says the issue of school bus safety was the topic of a recent Buffalo Common Council Education committee session.
“Right now drivers assume the lion share of that responsibility when there isn’t an aide of making sure that students are quiet, ready and the expectations for behavior – that that’s all before that bus pulls away,” said Dr. Will Keresztes, chief of Intergovernmental Affairs, Planning & Community Engagement for the school district.
Safety on city school buses has been a big concern following reports of a couple of sexual abuse incidents of young children on buses in 2016. In both cases no bus aides were on board those buses. But Keresztes explained the district continues hiring new aides.
“We currently have 648 bus routes covered by 422 aides – that’s a coverage rate of 62-percent. Last year at this time we had 56-percent of our buses being covered. We have very high expectations that next fall we will continue to make progress and have more buses covered,” Keresztes explained to the council committee.
Common Council Education chairman Ulysees Wingo continues to question the changes. He asked Keresztes if the district could ever reach 100-percent coverage for its bus aids on all city school buses.
“Do we have capacity to pay 226 bus aides to meet 100-percent of the bus routes being covered?” Wingo asked.
“It varies depending on the time of year, how that budget line is expended, but the superintendent was very clear – and the board was very clear – ‘tell us when you are getting close to expending the full budget line that was approved last year and we will take at a look at what needs to be done to fully fund bus aides,” answered Keresztes.
The school district recently received a report earlier this month from the New York State Education Department following a full review of past reported incidents. Keresztes told city lawmakers’ recommendations have been fast tracked.
“What is the district doing to ensure that the incident that was actually founded in this paper work doesn’t happen again,” questioned Wingo.
“What we want to do is actually follow the recommendation as written – which is – in sense – wherever possible – we have to consider the appropriateness of ‘age segregated’ seating for students and maybe what we are doing – if that’s the default – then when parents have insisted that the siblings stay together – then we honor that request without exception,” responded Keresztes. “There is responsible grouping of students done for very practical reasons. We want to begin expanding that on our buses, but we also need to manage the parental consent – always respecting parents’ wishes to keep children together who are often of different ages.”