By Jessica Bagley
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — After the usual capital project updates were complete, discussion of busing issues in the district dominated Tuesday’s school board meeting.
Rainbow Transportation representatives Terry Eisenman and Tom Witt attended the City of Tonawanda meeting to discuss various issues, as well as ask the board for a wage increase to take effect in January.
“We don’t take this to the board lightly,” Eisenman said. “Our rate is way under the market on basic services and we need to sustain our relationship.”
Wisenman asked for the current rate for a three-hour block, $187, to be increased to $211.
Board members responded quite negatively.
“We can’t in the middle of the year,” Board member Lynn Casal said. “If we negotiate with you, I fear we will have to negotiate with everyone else.”
The rest of the board repeated Casal’s concerns and also argued the district just doesn’t have the money since all of the funds are already designated per the 2012-2013 budget.
The agreement with Rainbow is set to be in effect until June 30, and board members argued that the company should have brought the request to the board back during budget time over the summer.
Rainbow also requested a fourth bus for the Riverview elementary routes. Representatives said the vehicles are having trouble staying on time and the buses are packed with students.
The overcrowding and lack of supervision has been causing behavioral problems on the buses, according to Witt.
“We are asking for one more for a comfortable amount of kids,” Witt said. “It’s also an issue of hitting the times.”
But board members again did not respond favorably.
“We were told, originally, they could do it with less buses and be on time,” Board President Jackie Smilinich said.
However, Riverview Principal Claudia Panaro echoed some of Witt’s complaints and told stories of numerous behavioral issues and fights on the buses.
She said the children have been extremely misbehaved on all three buses — one student punched another in the nose, kids are running up and down the aisles and children have welts on their heads from being hit with the seat belts.
“It is worse than I have ever seen it,” Panaro said.
And, understandably, parents are angry and worried.
Meanwhile, Mullen Elementary has a teacher assistant acting as a monitor on each of their three buses, while Riverview currently has none.
“If you are asking me personally, I would advocate for a monitor or supervision,” Panaro said.
The board eventually made a motion to add a teacher assistant as a monitor on one Riverview Elementary bus after a lengthy discussion.
The monitor’s wages will be hourly and will depend on the step the teacher assistant is at.
“We are looking at whether we can contractually move one over from Mullen, too, so there are two at each school,” Smilinich said.
Board members also questioned Rainbow representatives on what had happened to cameras that were installed in the vehicles and could be used for supervision purposes.
Eisenman said the cameras weren’t equipped for the winter and were breaking easily, and the company hasn’t reinvested in the technology.
According to Eisenman, the cameras “only had a 60 percent success rate.” But board members insisted that 60 percent is better than 0 percent.
“We got a loss of service,” Casal said. “And yet you are asking to increase rates.”Contact reporter Jessica Bagley at 693-1000, ext. 4150.