BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Some Buffalo parents are turning up the heat on Buffalo Public Schools (BPS) and the Buffalo Teachers Federation (BTF) , demanding staggered school start times to make sure every student gets to school on time.

“Their education is being compromised and we need to do something immediately,” Latrice Martin, who has two children in Buffalo schools, said.

It may seem like a simple fix to the bus driver shortage, but converting to three different start times is causing tension among parents, the district and the BTF.

Some parent leaders and Buffalo Schools say staggering school start and end times will free up more buses, ensuring all students can get to class. Martin says her two children, who are eight and nine years old respectively, are about 15-minutes late to school everyday, which means they are missing hours of class per week. She says it’s the districts responsibility to get kids to school on time.

“I have not opted out of my job and I’m still there. I need them to come in and do their part, as the district. I need you to show up on my kids,” Martin says.

The Buffalo Teachers Federation in contract talks with Buffalo Schools and the staggered start time is a sticking point. In a survey by the union, 84 percent of teachers voted against this proposal. Union President Phil Rumore says the district should add more bus drivers.

“I want an answer to the fundamental problem: how do we get more bus drivers? Let’s start paying attention to that and that should be number one on the list,” Phil Rumore, president of the Buffalo Teachers Federation, added.

Some parent advocates say it is on the teachers union to work this change into its new contract.

“We need the teachers union to either care enough about our kids to be inconvenienced 30 minutes so that they can get a fair and equitable education, or we need our district to just act,” Duncan Kirkwood, co-chair of We the Parents, told News 4.

Kirkwood says thousands of Buffalo students don’t have access to a full day of school. He added these students can’t go to after school programs, sports and other activities and that drives down math and reading scores.

“Fixing this crisis will not fix all problems, but we have our kids that their scores on proficiency, reading and math are going down. Getting them access to after school will make those scores go up,” Kirkwood added.

Buffalo Public Schools released the following statement to News 4:

Equity for all in all that we do, is the mantra of the Buffalo Public School District.  We must increase access to academic, social emotional and athletic opportunities so our children and families with desires to be involved, can take advantage of every opportunity available!  Every single student!   

First Student, the District, and many community and BPS parent leaders have certainly been working feverishly to address the national bus driver shortage we are experiencing, even working with the NYSED offices to brainstorm solutions. However, there are children who still are unable to participate in the Extended Learning Time (ELT) activities that are focused on addressing the learning loss experienced during the health pandemic over the last two years, and in the District’s newly implemented Modified Sports (after school) programs. 

There appears to be a ‘coming together’, like I have not seen in several years; an almost organic ground swell of interest in BPS having the ability to implement a three-tiered bell system for schools, which would help to solve the current issues.  BPS parent leaders, governmental officials, and generally concerned community members are actively working to ensure the District is doing what is truly in the best interest of all our children in the Buffalo Public Schools. At this point, the District is working to respond to the concerns shared by the BTF with the implementation of the three-tiered bell system.

Dr. Tonja Williams, Superintendent of Buffalo Public Schools

Parent groups have called on Governor Kathy Hochul to declare a state of emergency so that Buffalo Schools can start using this system without having to go through the BTF.

The next Buffalo Board of Education meeting is scheduled for Dec. 21 at 5:30 p.m.

Tara Lynch is a Buffalo native who joined the News 4 team as a reporter in 2022. She previously worked at WETM in Elmira, N.Y., a sister station of News 4. You can follow Tara on Facebook and Twitter and find more of her work here.