Buffalo Parents/Leaders Furious With First Student

Calling current siutation a 'transportation crisis'

Brendan Keany
October 17, 2019 - 2:24 pm

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BUFFALO (WBEN) - On Thursday morning, Buffalo parent leaders and school administrators gathered to hold a press conference regarding the numerous busing issues that have already been documented this school year.

Leaders are now asking parents to fill out an affidavit detailing their personal problems, as officials and lawyers are looking for legal avenues to pursue against First Student.

The affidavit states:

"That I knowingly and voluntarily offer this affidavit in support of a complaint, petition or assertion that my child is exposed to unreasonable risk, danger or harm while being being transported to or from school by the Buffalo Public School District, its agents, employees or contractors. Contrary to the best educational interests and physical well-being of my child, the current pupil transportation operation of the Buffalo Public School District constitutes a public hazard for my child."

"I don't want anybody to leave here with the feeling that First Student is not responsible for all of this," said Keith Jones of the Buffalo Parent Teacher Organization. "This falls into First Student's lap."

Duncan Kirkwood is a concerned parent who is relatively new to his current neighborhood, and he explained that he has already called the company several times this year because his daughter was dropped off at the wrong place. He says the most recent issues are much more serious.

"Now, we are moving from an inconvenience to a safety concern," he said. "We're in a new neighborhood, and the bus driver drops her off on a different street, so she calls me and my wife crying - thank God she has a cell phone - because she doesn't know where she's at."

Administrators from various Buffalo charter schools say that schools regularly have buses coming one to two hours late, and that schools are having to pay overtime to staff who have to wait for buses to get there, as well as feeding students who have to stay.

Sam Radford is the CAO of Better Schools Better Neighborhoods, and he explained their next step.

"If you're asking me, I think that First Student is ultimately is the one responsible," said Radford. "We are paying for a service that's not being provided, and at the end of the day, I've been told that there's not even penalties in the contract for them not providing the service, so from a business side, they're not providing the service and not losing any money. Ultimately, the district can't make its vendor provide its service, but ultimately, the district has to take responsibility and say to the vendor. 'You can't provide the service, we need to go to another vendor or go to multiple vendors.'

"We can't afford to have missed time in the classroom," he continued. "This is the third poorest city in the country; you can't be asking parents to figure out a way to get their children to school - half the parents in the City of Buffalo don't have a car...This creates a hardship on parents that people in the decision-making capacity don't necessarily feel, so what we want to do is make sure that we represent the interests of those parents and make sure they have the sense of urgency that something gets done."

Listen to the entire press conference below:

First Student Spokesperson Chris Kemper acknowledged the concerns from parents and administration, and he says the company is trying its best to deal with a national shortage of school bus drivers.

"I think we understand where they're coming from," said Kemper. "We know that our service is not what the community expects of us or what we expect of ourselves, so we understand the concern and the frustration - we're frustrated too. The culprit is a critical shortage of school bus drivers, so it's not just in Buffalo or Western New York, it's really a nationwide problem."

However, Kemper did say that First Student is trying to be as aggressive as possible in their recruitment of new drivers, and that there will hopefully be a dramatic shift in service quality.

"We're actively recruiting - we've increased our starting wage by 2.5%, and we have a $3,000 sign-on bonus for experienced drivers, and we have an active pool of folks that are coming in. We have about 30-40 applicants a week, and we have somewhere in the neighborhood of 20-30 candidates going through our training program at any particular point in time." he said. "We are optimistic, but we also hesitate to put any kind of timeline on this because there is such a critical shortage, and it's not just for school bussing, it's for any position that requires a commercial driver's license."

Listen to Kemper';s full comments below:

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