BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — There’s more division on the Buffalo School Board on pay bonuses and whether parents should be reimbursed for busing their kids to school.
Both proposals face legal challenges.
Those pay bonuses would go to district employees including top staff and district superintendent Dr. Kriner Cash.
On Wednesday night, the Buffalo School Board engaged in another fiery exchange on issues the district faces.
“Stop acting like this district and these staff and me don’t care about the kids, really? really?” said district superintendent Dr. Kriner Cash.
“Who are you talking to?” responded board member Sharon Belton-Cottman.
“I’m talking to you. I’ve been disrespected all night,” Cash said.
Apart from the outbursts — one question up for debate is whether district employees should get pay bonuses? This is on top of pay raises Cash has proposed for top administrators. On the bonuses — top staff including Cash, who makes six figures would get $2,000. New hires could get up to $1,000 bonuses and substitutes would be eligible for $500 bonuses.
“The COVID-19 reasonable pay resolution is very needed in this district, we need to find a way to help retain our teachers here in the City of Buffalo and our Buffalo Public Schools employees,” said school board member Terrance Heard, “Our teachers worked just as hard as our support staff, our support staff worked just as hard as our maintenance staffs, and they did a lot of work went beyond the call of duty to address the issues with COVID.”
But, several board members expressed concern about the overall cost for the bonuses — an estimated $13 million that Heard cited has been calculated by the district’s finance department — and whether the money legally can be spent using CARES Act funding. According to the U.S. Department of Education, CARES Act funding, “generally will not be used for bonuses, merit pay, or similar expenditures, unless related to disruptions or closures resulting from COVID-19.”
“One of the things that I’m not clear on, specifically, is the impact on the budget is whether or not we can do this with ESSER funding for these things, the amount,” said Dr. Ann Rivera, board member-at-large. Board member Hope Jay and Lou Petrucci both echoed what Rivera said.
The school board is also considering whether to give $50 gas cards to parents who drive their kids to school because of the shortage in bus drivers. Belton-Cottman demanded a vote, but some board members weren’t comfortable with that because of legal concerns and questions on cost.
“Without having any hard data on these variables, we cannot know what if any impact this incentive will on resolving the crisis,” said school board member Larry Scott.
The district’s general counsel, Nate Kuzma says the board can approve reimbursements to parents who drive their kids to school, but approving a random amount of $50 for pre-paid gas cards may pose an issue.
Both the pay raise and gas card proposals weren’t voted on and were sent to committees.
Jeff Preval is an award-winning anchor and reporter who joined the News 4 team in December 2021. See more of his work here.