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State to pay for busing students on Seneca land

The state and Seneca Nation of Indians have agreed on busing students on the Cattaraugus Reservation to school, but parents aren't likely see the results immediately.

On Sept. 2, Seneca President Barry Snyder banned Carrier Coach, the company providing the service, from Seneca lands, leaving about 600 high school and elementary students without door-to-door transportation.

Instead of being picked up at their homes, students in two of the three districts serving the Cattaraugus Reservation have had to be taken to pickup points to be bused to school.

"That's been a bit of a problem on the territory," said Peter Cutler, Seneca spokesman.

At a meeting Wednesday, state officials gave representatives from the Senecas and superintendents of the Gowanda, Lake Shore and Silver Creek school districts a letter confirming that the state will pick up the tab, including start-up costs, for the districts to provide transportation.

"The superintendents are trying to get kids to school and protect the interests of the taxpayers," Gowanda Superintendent Charles Rinaldi said.

The Senecas have been paying the districts to transport the students since banning Carrier from the Cattaraugus Reservation.

Carrier, meanwhile, says it's still under contract to provide the services but congratulated the Senecas on the agreement.

"We have been aware for many years that the Seneca Nation of Indians has fought with the state to have the busing provided by the school districts through the state," said Holly Miller, Carrier Coach comptroller, conceding that school districts have more resources for newer buses and better-paid drivers.

"Carrier Coach, on the other hand, is in a competitive bid environment," she said, noting the company hopes to work with the Seneca Nation again -- and that it provides special-education busing for Gowanda.

Snyder said he pushed to end Carrier's service because of a series of problems. After an accident, he said, Carrier transferred two children to another bus without providing any medical attention. They were taken to a hospital emergency room after the second bus arrived at the school.

Miller said the company has resolved Snyder's four specific complaints.

The new agreement calls for the school districts and the state to develop an operational plan "with a sense of urgency" and to provide door-to-door service "as soon as practicable," but it sets no specific deadline.

"Basically, we're trying to move forward with developing plans," Silver Creek Superintendent Gordon Salisbury said.

Each district must devise a route plan, then obtain approval from its school board and four offices in the state Education Department. When completed, the agreement is expected to be similar to those between the state and other American Indian groups.

Since the school year started, each district has had different arrangements for picking up children on the Cattaraugus Reservation.

"We don't want anything to impede their education, and obviously, if getting to school's a problem, that can impede their education," Lake Shore School Board President Richard Vogan said. "We want to find a solution as soon as possible."

Gowanda, which has 305 students on the reservation, has three pickup sites. Lake Shore has one.

Silver Creek is largely unaffected since it already was picking up students with its own buses, although it still must coordinate with the other districts.

e-mail: eploetz@buffnews.com

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