Plan to pay parents to drive their children to Buffalo schools irks board member | Education

A Buffalo Public Schools board member Wednesday criticized the district’s private transportation partner for falling short in its commitment amid a nationwide bus shortage, and questioned whether it would be wise for the district to spend more of its own money to compensate.

Larry Scott, an at-large board member, tweeted his reaction to the school board’s consideration of a proposal at Wednesday’s meeting that would pay 1,500 parents a total of $1 million through mileage reimbursement to drive their own children to and from school.

In a Facebook post he shared via screenshot on Twitter, Scott targeted First Student, which has partnered with BPS for nearly 40 years, for failing to meet its requirement to provide effective transportation for the district’s children. According to the Buffalo Schools’ budget, the district will pay its private transportation partner $41.7 million for this school year after paying $49.3 million in 2021.

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Responding to the $1 million figure to be presented to the school board, Scott wrote: “I can’t support throwing more money at this problem. We have agreed to driver raises and sign on bonuses and cut well over a hundred routes, as remedies . I know that this is a national crisis, but, perhaps First Student, a large national company, should share SOME of this responsibility for not fulfilling their commitment to this costly contract.”

Rob Hummel, the Buffalo representative for First Student, could not be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon. During an August news conference with district officials regarding the transportation crisis, Hummel touted the pay increase, with drivers starting between $25 and $28 per hour, as well as signing and retention bonuses as ways the international transportation provider was working to overcome the nationwide shortage felt locally, with as many as 100 bus drivers needed at the time.

He added that several prospective bus drivers were trying to navigate the process to earn a commercial drivers license (CDL) required to drive a bus.

Reimbursing parents 58.5 cents per mile is one of several solutions under consideration by Buffalo to address a severe driver shortage that is impacting schools across the nation.

The district operated more than 700 bus routes before the pandemic, but started this year with just over 400, officials said.

Rob Galbraith, a Buffalo Public School parent, quoted Scott with a screenshot of First Student’s public financial report. First Student in North America, part of international transportation business FirstGroup, profited $123 million in the year prior to March 2022 on an 18% profit margin.

The strategy to reimburse parents the federal mileage rate for a predetermined route was one of several solutions considered by the Operation Sunrise, a group of administrators, stakeholders and community leaders who brainstormed ways over the summer to overcome the nationwide shortage of bus drivers.

Because only 5% of district parents responded with interest to an August survey distributed by the committee, Superintendent Tonja M. Williams said the district would first attempt a pilot or trial program where parents who responded to the survey would be reimbursed. She said in a previous interview that reimbursing parents would work only if enough parents along a certain bus route could all drive their children, allowing the district and First Student to consolidate or eliminate yellow bus routes.

Ben Tsujimoto can be reached at [email protected], at (716) 849-6927 or on Twitter at @Tsuj10.


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