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Schools asking Buffalo for $2 million to put aides on all buses

As many as 150 more aides could be hired for Buffalo school buses for the remainder of the current academic year to ease parent concerns and cool a bubbling controversy.

But for next school year and beyond, the district will need more financial assistance if it’s going to place an aide on every bus, as parents and city lawmakers are demanding.

While the district will lobby the state for more funding to restore bus aide positions, it also has asked the City of Buffalo for additional money to help foot the bill.

That’s the message from Superintendent Kriner Cash as the school district tries to come up with solutions to its bus-aide quandary. It has become an increasingly public issue in recent weeks, after two alleged sexual assaults on two separate buses prompted a parent group to file a federal complaint that would force the district to place aides on every city school bus. Officials said subsequent probes indicate at least one of the reported assaults never happened.

“Even if these allegations are unfounded, student safety is our top priority,” Cash said. “Parents and the public must have the confidence that children are safe and supervised at all times while under the care of the schools.”

The district had a full complement of bus aides until those positions were cut in two consecutive budgets starting in 2013, Cash said.

Now, the school district spends $5.8 million for roughly 400 bus aides, the superintendent said. The district would need another $4 million for an additional 312 aides, which would restore staffing to what it was three years ago, Cash said.

School officials are prepared for the possibility that the state won’t increase funding for bus aides and already have asked the city to up its funding to the district by at least $2 million to help pay the cost.

South Council Member Christopher P. Scanlon – who is among those on the Common Council calling for aides on every bus – said he isn’t wholeheartedly opposed to increasing funding to the Buffalo Public Schools, but he first wants a detailed breakdown of how the district allocates the $70 million it already receives from the city.

Scanlon also isn’t sure more money is the answer to the bus-aide problem.

The district has complained it has a difficult time filling bus-aide positions, which have an annual turnover rate of 40 percent.

“What are the issues that are creating that turnover?” Scanlon said. “They have to find out why these people are leaving and what they can do to change that.”

The district already has some money in reserves to hire between 100 to 150 additional bus aides for the remainder of this school year, as officials figure out how to restore a full complement of aides in the budget for next year and beyond.

But filling positions this year will be tricky, too, and depends on whether the district can find enough interested candidates who can get through the Civil Service process in a timely fashion.

In the meantime, the district is looking at other solutions.