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Buffalo Common Council wants more answers from district about safety on school buses

Buffalo Common Council members continue to raise questions about safety on city school buses, but they didn’t get as many answers as they had hoped for on Thursday.

A Council subcommittee met publicly with city school district officials, and members peppered them with questions about plans to add more bus aides:

• Does the district have the money to place an aide on each bus?

• How many incidents are reported on city school buses?

• Why does the district have trouble retaining bus aides?

In the end, however, both sides agreed to meet again next month when school officials will bring a more detailed presentation that should answer some of Council’s questions.

“I’m a little frustrated, to be honest,” South District Council Member Christopher P. Scanlon said after Thursday’s meeting. “They came to the meeting with not much information at all. I hope they bring back something a little more substantial.”

Scanlon and fellow Council Members Richard A. Fontana, of Lovejoy, and Ulysees O. Wingo Sr., of Masten, who serve on the Education Committee, have been pressing the district to add more aides on buses after allegations recently surfaced that a 6-year-old student at a private school was sexually assaulted by an older student while riding home on a Buffalo school bus in December.

A separate, but similar, complaint was made in November about an incident on another Buffalo school bus without an aide.

The three city lawmakers invited school officials to the Education Committee meeting next Thursday to discuss bus safety.

“I wanted to know if they can elaborate a little bit on what has taken place the last few months to tackle this issue, what kind of solutions they may or may not have come up with and where we’re going from here,” Scanlon said at the start of the meeting.

Kevin J. Eberle, the district’s chief operations officer, did not specifically address the allegation from December, because it’s an active police investigation.

But whether this latest allegation on the bus actually is true or not, the district is intent on finding solutions so parents feel comfortable about their children’s bus rides.

An aide is required if there’s a special-education student on the bus, Eberle said. The district provides aides to cover roughly 70 percent of city school buses, he said, but the actual numbers tend to be less because the job has a high turnover rate. And on any given day, school officials have said, there are 20 to 30 aides who don’t show up for work.

“We have a 40 percent turnover in our bus aides yearly,” Eberle told the Council members. “It’s a difficult position to keep filled.”

The district is actively trying to recruit people to fill those part-time positions, Eberle said.

Wingo asked why there was such a high turnover among bus aides.

“I think a lot of the turnover I’ve seen is due to them looking for different full-time jobs,” Eberle said.

“Do you have any information as to the term or the length of stay for a bus aide?” Wingo asked.

“That’s a great question,” Eberle said. “I can definitely come back and have information for you at a later meeting.”

Scanlon and Fontana tried to pin down Eberle on whether the district planned on putting an aide on every bus.

“It’s a tough question to answer definitively,” Eberle said.

Afterward, Fontana and Wingo said they thought this initial meeting was helpful, but will press for particulars.

“Today, we got a lot of general answers,” Wingo said, “but they realize we’re keen on this issue and want more specifics.”

email: jrey@buffnews.com