BUFFALO, N.Y. — There were many topics on the table during Wednesday's Buffalo Public School board meeting.
The most notable was a resolution written by board member Sharon Belton-Cottman to incentivize parents to drive their kids to school to alleviate district transportation issues.
Like many districts across the country, the Buffalo Public School District is facing a bus driver shortage. Cottman said students are waiting extended periods of time outside in the cold for late buses.
"A woman called me the other day at 10:15, Mrs. Cottman this bus was supposed to be here at 8 o'clock its 10:15 and the bus is just getting here," Cottman said.
The proposed resolution would reimburse parents who drive their kids to school with a gas card based on the mileage they drove to get them there.
Board member Jennifer Mecozzi brought up concerns about how much the proposal would cost the district and how this would help parents who do not have vehicles.
Much debate began over whether or not the resolution should be put forth to a vote on Wednesday at the recommendation of Cottman or taken to committee for more revision.
During this debate, Dr. Kriner Cash weighed in and said he has concerns about the resolution and the impact it may have on the district.
"I'm the one that has to execute your resolutions so if you want to get educated about the inaccuracies in this resolution and about the many concerns that I and staff have about this resolution then the least thing you can do is go to committee," Cash said.
The board voted to have the resolution taken to committee for further review.
Can they do this?
Cottman cited a section of the estate's Education Law, which was updated just three months ago, and which she believes makes clear that the district could reimburse parents for gas as she proposes.
Education Law 1709(27) states that a board of education "may contract with any person... for the conveyance of pupils residing within the district" such as, with a legal guardian or parent to transport his or her own children.
Commissioner’s Regulations Section 156.3(1)(iii) provides "a parent who transports exclusively his or her own children" is not considered a school bus driver. This classification makes the parent, when driving his own child on a parent contract, exempt from the commercial licensing requirements of Section 156.3 of the Regulations of the Commissioner of Education. Also, the parent's vehicle is not subject to a school bus inspection by the Department of Transportation, and the parent or legal guardian (who is the driver) transporting in this capacity is not subject to Article 19-A of Vehicle and Traffic Law. Article 19-A does not apply to a person operating his or her own vehicle with a seating capacity of 10 or fewer adults.
SED is not requiring any evidence of competitive bidding to approve parent contracts for Transportation Aid. This is because:
- The requirement for a parent contract is limited to the driver being the parent or legal guardian and as such there is can generally only ever one respondent to any such transportation request.
- The exemptions from state agency requirements when parents transport their own children as noted above means parents are not considered school bus drivers or transportation contractors like other for-hire companies.
Cottman speaks out
Cottman spoke further with 2 On Your Side on Thursday about why she feels the need to adopt her resolution is urgent, and her frustration that action has not been taken by the administration to develop a plan for the idea, which was proposed in that September.
Cottman also answered several questions that have surfaced regarding how such a plan might work.
COVID bonuses for school employees
Another notable resolution presented on Wednesday would give Buffalo Public School employees a COVID-19 bonus.
Board Member Terrance Heard presented a resolution that would give current Buffalo Public School employees a one-time $2,000 COVID-19 retention bonus and new hires a $500 bonus.
The funding for the bonuses would come from Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief Funds (“ESSER”).
The board voted to take this resolution up in committee as well.