BUFFALO, N.Y (WIVB) — The school year begins Tuesday for Buffalo Public Schools and Superintendent Dr. Tonja Williams says the district is ready to receive students and transport them safely to class.
There is a nationwide bus driver shortage, which is affecting how many bus routes the district is able to run. During the last Board of Education meeting in August, a new, four-pronged transportation plan was laid out, including reimbursing parents to transport their children, creating staggered school start times, combining routes and giving families NFTA bus passes. By combining routes and staggering start times, 14 bus routes have been eliminated.
A source close to the school district says up to 3,000 students could be without transportation this school year.
The district is actively hiring drivers and bus aides. Dr. Williams said more bus aides have been hired to address safety concerns, too.
“We started out last week and we knew that we had about a 70 bus driver shortage. We’re down to 40, which means things are going in the right direction,” Dr. Williams told News 4 via Zoom.
Getting more than 31,000 students to and from school safely is a top priority for the district. A source close to Buffalo Schools says principals and administrators found out about early start times on Friday via a letter sent to administration. This letter outlined the potential for over time for teachers and aides. It also required an administrator to be on staff during these times. Dr. Williams says the district is prepared to incur costs and has the resources to cover this strategy.
Some students could get picked up as early as 6:30 a.m. and get picked up from school as late as 6:15 p.m. Early pick-ups may not be the first kids to get dropped back at home.
“It just depends on which routes we have drivers for,” Dr. Williams said. “We’ve done some things to make sure that our children who are in school until 6:15 p.m. will receive snacks, they will be supervised, they will be able to make up for some of the learning loss.”
Combined bus routes could also mean students of different ages from different schools could share a bus. Dr. Williams says elementary school children have shared routes with middle school children before and the district is prepared for that.
“We have our littles sitting as close to the front as possible so that, unless they are siblings of one of the older students, there’s not potential for a Pre-Ker sitting with one of our seventh and eighth grade students. Developmentally, we just don’t encourage that,” Dr. Williams said.
Dr. Williams shared she has sent out communications with parents about bus routes and she expects to send more information to families this weekend. She encourages parents to have patience with the district as they work out the first week kinks next week.
Pre-kindergarten to fourth grade students should carry identification or have a tag on their bag with their name and emergency contact information in case they get on the wrong bus, according to Dr. Williams. She says parents can download the First View app to track their child’s yellow school bus in real-time, so that children are not left waiting in the morning and afternoon at bus stops.