BUFFALO, N.Y. — Payments for parents are still on the table, as the Buffalo Public School District looks for solutions to an ongoing bussing problem.
During a marathon, five-hour-long board meeting Wednesday night, the district’s pilot program was approved to move forward.
While at-large board member Larry Scott was the singular ‘no’ vote, several other members expressed reservations or asked for additional evidence of the program’s effectiveness.
“We focus on equity with everything that we do and for some reason, we're concentrating on those who have right now,” West District school board member Jennifer Mecozzi said.
A special transportation committee unveiled the proposal in August and explained how they hoped to incentivize parents to drive their kids to school and thereby open seats on busses for those who don’t have the option of driving their kids to school.
“This is an attempt to try and make headway and anything short of this is criminal,” Ferry District school board member Sharon Belton-Cottman said.
While there have been other options suggested to solve the bussing problem, they include consolidating bus routes, enhancing before-school programs, and providing public transit reimbursement, reimbursement has proven to be a front runner.
During the meeting, we learned that pending the results of further research, information, and data gathering, the district would test paying 1,500 parents $0.625 cents per mile for every mile they would drive their kid/kids to school and from school to home at the end of the day.
The pilot would cost an estimated $810,000 plus $46,332 for processing by 22nd Century Technologies according to the recommendation provided to the board. The recommendation used an average of six miles per day for both drop-off and pickup and if implemented by November 14, would cover 144 days of instruction through June 30, 2023.
2 On Your Side calculated that reimbursement would amount to an average of $83 per month – with some families receiving more or less than that amount depending on how far they drive.
Unlike other transportation costs which are reimbursed by the state education department, Buffalo School Board president Louis Petrucci explained that it is unclear whether that would also apply to this pilot program.
“To throw money at something that doesn't have good evidence that it works, we are paying First Student almost $50,000,000 per year to transport our kids we have a contract with them and I think they should own some of this,” At-Large Buffalo school board member Larry Scott told 2 On Your Side Thursday.
Scott added that while he recognizes something needs to be done to alleviate the issues with bussing, he says he hasn’t seen enough hard evidence to show the pilot would really alleviate the problem.
The district surveyed families over the summer, but Scott said it did not ask about socioeconomic status and if parents who support the program are already driving their kids to school. He added that the district received 4,000 responses.
“If there are parents that are really going to step up and could use that money and could make a difference in our transportation system which I hope I am wrong on, in my opposition, and I hope it does work. Then we'll move forward,” Scott said.
Buffalo would be the first school of its size to attempt such a reimbursement program – although several steps remain before it could be implemented. The school board’s next meeting is set for Oct. 19.