Community members, government look for creative solutions to busing problem
Robin Lavergne, a retired Rochester City School District counselor for 30 years, lives in the 19th Ward neighborhood. These days, when she’s not visiting family or friends, she’s busy helping students by taking them to and from school in her car.
“I’m just blessed to be able to provide this support," Lavergne said. "For me, if my community isn’t doing well, then I’m not doing well.”
Bus drivers retiring from the district and its contractors have caused a shortage, leaving hundreds of students facing delayed pickups -- or no ride at all. Districts around the area and the country are facing similar problems.
In Rochester, Lavergne is part of one solution: Bus Stop Roc. It’s one of several groups aiming to fill the gaps by using their own cars to drop kids off. The group’s volunteer drivers transported kids from 41 families last week, but organizer Cherriese Bufis said they can’t fulfill every request.
Depending on the vehicle, drivers can only take two or three kids at a time. Bufis said most drivers transport eight kids a day. The drivers must pass a background check or have a copy of a recently passed background check from an employer.
On busy days, they’ve had about 100 people reach out for help, and they're picking up additional kids whenever it makes sense. Bufis said she had to turn down a child who attends a charter school in Greece because it would make transporting other students more difficult.
The district received hundreds of millions of dollars in stimulus money earlier this year, and Bufis said it should be used to take steps like the ones taken by the Camden, New Jersey, School District, which is offering parents $1,000 to transport their kids or fund volunteer groups like hers.
“If parents don’t have transportation, and are unable to get their students to school, then pay the people who are getting the students to school,” said Bufis.
The district has not yet responded to a request for comment.
Board of Education President Van White said he’s not aware of these concepts being discussed. He said he’s not endorsing the program but said the district and its families should think outside the box when it comes to solving the busing problems.
“I do think this situation requires people, including government and citizens, to be creative,” White said.
In a recent community meeting, White said he suggested something similar to Bus Stop Roc — having parents or guardians pursue a carpooling service (for those who can afford it), guaranteeing rides for students while the district searches for larger solutions. One of the services is based in New Jersey but, if contracted, would hire local drivers.
He said he expects this problem to persist. Once school bus drivers are recruited, it takes months to get them licensed, insured and certified. Last weekend, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced a waiver of the 14-day waiting period between the permit and road tests as part of the state’s effort to improve the situation.
As for Lavergne, she was hoping this would be needed for only a few weeks, but she said she’ll transport kids as long as she can. She’s wary about doing it in the upcoming winter months.
“I thought this was just temporary. I have a schedule and a life of my own,” Lavergne said. “I was thinking about that the other day, we’re getting ready to go into October. What’s going to happen?”