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The number of Buffalo pupils riding school buses jumped 15 percent this year, and that could prompt school officials to act more quickly to close schools on stormy winter days.

"With that many buses, it could have a definite impact on our decisions about closing," Yvonne Hargrave, interim superintendent, told a Board of Education committee this week. "People may need to have backup arrangements for their kids."

The number of elementary school pupils riding yellow buses shot up to 27,417 this year, from 24,000 last year. In the last two years, the percentage of Buffalo elementary and middle school pupils who take buses to school rose to 85 percent from 66 percent.

Just this year, the number of yellow buses in operation jumped to 579 from 496.

As a result, many buses are handling three different routes in both the morning and afternoon, said John P. Fahey, assistant superintendent for service center operations. Weather-related delays on the first route would have a domino effect and set back the schedule for the other two schools. Until last year, buses served no more than two schools.

Fahey, the system's point man on school closings, said the dramatic rise in busing could be a factor in those decisions.

"That's certainly something we need to consider," he said. "We've been talking about that."

Before retiring as superintendent in June, Marion Canedo had a reputation for erring on the side of safety and closed city schools several times when suburban schools remained open. Hargrave will have the final say this winter.

The increase in busing results largely from:

Under the new citywide open enrollment policy, many youngsters are choosing to attend schools far from home. That surprised school officials, who had expected more families to opt for nearby neighborhood schools within walking distance.

The system has contracted to provide busing for 2,625 pupils at eight city charter schools.

The massive school reconstruction program has resulted in the temporary transfer of many students to schools farther from their homes.

Eligibility for transportation depends on how far youngsters live from their schools. The boundaries for individual elementary and middle schools vary from roughly one-half to three-quarters of a mile.

Buffalo contracts with Laidlaw Education Services for elementary and middle school busing.

In addition, the system provides Metro Bus and Rail passes for 10,684 high school students who live more than 1.5 miles from their schools.


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