By Jessica Bagley
The Tonawanda News
CITY OF TONAWANDA — After numerous fights and behavioral problems on Riverview Elementary buses, the City of Tonawanda school board voted last month to add a bus monitor to supervise the students.
As of right now, one teaching assistant has been hired to float between the three elementary school buses.
And at Tuesday’s meeting, Business Director Stephen Perry said the decision seems to be successful — with no incident reports coming from the elementary schools and only one serious incident at the high school in the last two weeks.
But Perry said he still plans on advising the board to reinstate two buses during the next budget session. The two buses, along with a swim and late bus, were cut in response to the board’s request to lower transportation costs by 10 percent.
Although the move to go from 12 buses to 10 will save $64,000, Perry and Rainbow busing representatives believe cramming more students into the remaining buses has caused problems.
“We have had a number of issues that are due to the overcrowding,” he said.
Riverview students were fighting, running up and down the aisles and one children were hitting each other with seat belts. One student has come off the bus with a bloody nose.
Rainbow representatives attributed the behavior problems to overcrowding; some buses have close to 60 children on them. Drivers have also had trouble staying on schedule with the addition of more passengers to pick up, and Rainbow representatives requested an additional bus at the Oct. 23 meeting.
But the board wasn’t too receptive to adding more buses.
“We were told, originally, they could do it with less buses and be on time,” Board President Jackie Smilinich said.
Riverview Principal Claudia Panaro agreed, and said she thought adding monitors was the most promising solution.
In addition to behavior problems, the district is currently operating with a $161,700 deficit due to special education transportation costs.
According to Director of Special Education Amy Edgerton, 21 students with special needs have moved into the district since July 1.
But seven of those students can’t be served by the district and need to be bused out to other placements.
However, Edgerton said the contingency transportation budget for this academic year was removed due to the 10 percent cut request from the board.
The board didn’t respond positively to Edgerton’s news.
“We told you to cut it if you could,” board member Sharon Stuart said. “It was just a request.”
Edgerton said she is scheduling anniversary meetings with students to evaluate their progress, in hopes that some would be able to come back in the district, thereby reducing transportation costs.
One special education tenured teaching position was also abolished at the October meeting and that saved money may help. The decision to cut the position came as a result of a reduced class size in a 6-1-1 classroom.
Board President Jackie Smilinich said the board hasn’t made any decisions on the budget for the 2013-2014 year, and it’s not clear whether the contingency budget will be reinstated.
Perry also said he has met with Mayor Ron Pilozzi to discuss instating shared service agreements, including one for health care.
“It could possibly save us money,” he said.
Contact reporter Jessica Bagley at 693-1000, ext. 4150.