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Bus driver shortage complicates back-to-school plan for Buffalo Public Schools

A school bus
File Photo

The Buffalo School Board voted Wednesday evening to re-open schools five days a week next month, with everyone masked.

The vote was 7-2, with Paulette Woods and Terrance Heard opposed, after a noisy and occasionally angry debate.

Woods told the meeting at Waterfront Elementary School that the district isn't spending its American Rescue Plan dollars the way citizens want. That drew an angry response from Cash, who said no citizen told him that.

Some long and loud speakers at the meeting also shared their concerns about COVID precautions and wellness program activities, including salad bars being removed from schools.

But for the School Board, the problem is more than COVID-19 and all that has done to education in the last two years. Schools Superintendent Kriner Cash also told the board that there is a massive shortage of 150 bus drivers at First Student, the district's bus service.

The district's Transportation Department has spent the entire summer re-working and shrinking the bus network to work around the driver shortage and apparently has. What triggered some anger from board members is that the driver shortage has created a cascading series of problems involving the district's successful after-school and Saturday programs, because drivers won't be available.

The superintendent said the hope is to use Metro Bus for the Saturday classes, while getting the afternoon programs up and running in October. Some students will continue to use after-school programs outside of the school system's sites because parents told the district to drop them off there in the afternoon.

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.