BUFFALO, N.Y. — They're called upon for natural disasters and times of civil unrest. Now there's a proposal to call on the National Guard to help drive Western New York's children to school.
It was brought up at Wednesday night's Buffalo school board meeting as a possible solution to the local bus driver shortage.
Buffalo Public Schools Superintendent Kriner Cash said it was just an idea and that the district hasn't discussed using the National Guard in depth.
During a normal year, he says the district has 667 drivers, but right now there's only about 515. BPS has 210 applications, and Dr. Cash says hiring 60 to 70 people could solve the district's problem.
2 On Your Side's Danielle Church reached out to Dr. Cash's office to find out when they would potentially need the National Guard's help but was told that would be up to the state.
A spokesperson for Gov. Kathy Hochul sent 2 On Your Side this statement:
"Student safety is paramount. Transporting kids to school is outside the current scope of the National Guard. As New York faces the same bus driver shortage facing other states across the nation, we continue to work with all stakeholders to identify practicable potential solutions."
So what's behind the shortage?
Gary Yuzbashev, president of the WNY Bus Co., says drivers are retiring and there aren't enough young people getting into it. Right now, he says about 25 percent of WNY Bus Co. has employees 60 and older.
Yuzbashev also points to the amount of regulations in place for the bus driver shortage.
"There's so many restrictions now, so many regulations, that sometimes you lose good drivers because of the medical follow-ups. There are many, many different factors why sometimes we'll even temporarily lose a driver, so we cannot utilize a person if the person is prohibited to drive," Yuzbashev said.
As for other local districts, Williamsville Central Schools have made five more hires. That means the district is only down seven drivers now.
Hamburg Central Schools says they don't have a shortage because they utilize a private company out of Hamburg to drive students to and from school. That's according to Hamburg Superintendent Mike Cornell.
Cornell says he feels for his colleagues at other Western New York schools dealing with the shortage.
Though he adds deploying the National Guard wouldn't be a costless venture, as it would take people away from their normal day jobs.
He encourages other school leaders to be "thoughtful before suggesting it as a solution."