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Niagara Falls' run-up to school year a lot calmer than recent years, but continuing bus driver shortage looms

Mike Desmond
The Niagara Falls City School District Board of Education holds a meeting July 7, 2022.

The start of school isn’t as far off as some young people hope. Thursday night, the Niagara Falls City School District Board of Education held a routine reorganization meeting.

The meeting went through all of the regular details of starting another school fiscal year. There were no discussions of the COVID-19 pandemic and all that implied.

Russ Petrozzi, who was re-elected as board president at the meeting, said having a regular school year means academic routine.

“It allows us to concentrate on learning and going forward and keeping kids caught up to where they have to be, versus: Who's going to be in school because of COVID? Who's not going to be in school? Are we going to be remote? Are we going to be in person?" he said. "It really lets us get down to business.”

School Superintendent Mark Laurrie said the school system had a rough ride last year, although they now know a lot more than when kids first returned from remote learning.

“We've now been with kids for a year and a summer. And we know them so much better. We know their needs. We know their strengths. We know their challenges and the familiarity is going to make a better start," he said. "We didn't know some of those students for 18 months and they hadn't been together in that kind of a social setting for 18 months.”

What hasn’t been resolved is the shortage of bus drivers. Last year, there were some brawls at the high school because students had to wait for up to two hours until buses could return and do another round of taking kids home.

So Laurrie said the district changed start times.

“We have our prep school students starting at 7:30 [a.m.], our high school students arriving at 7:55 [a.m.] and our elementary students arriving at 8:30 [a.m.]," he said. "That gives a much more spread out use of, unfortunately, the same drivers who now may have to do three-runs. They know that. They're ready for that.”

There’s a test of many changes coming on Monday, as the district starts summer programs. More than 2,500 of the district’s 7,000 students will be taking an array of academic and recreational programs.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.