Under transportation rules, third-grader Mary Buchanan is considered a walker.

In the eyes of the girl’s grandmother, the idea of expecting any 9-year-old to walk to school is just plain ludicrous.

In a community where crossing guards no longer exist, but registered sex offenders are more prevalent than ever, Buchanan’s grandmother, Maryann Deary, thinks more should be done to make sure kids get to class safely.

“I think the safety factor should outweigh all the other things,” said Deary, a Linwood Avenue resident. “There’s no reason why we should have children’s safety compromised. That is unacceptable.”

While officials at the Niagara Falls School District understand Deary’s concerns, they say the state’s long-standing reimbursement policy makes it cost-prohibitive to provide buses to all students. Under state policy, the district receives 90 percent reimbursement to cover transportation costs for any student living more than 1.5 miles away from their neighborhood school. Inside the 1.5 mile area, students are expected to walk to class or find their own ride. Exceptions are made for students with special needs.

Interim Superintendent Cynthia Bianco said the district’s last study on the issue, performed several years ago, showed that picking up the tab for transporting every kid would add roughly $1.7 million to the district’s bottom line.

“It would just be financially impossible,” Bianco said.

Deary believes the district can’t afford not to make some changes.

Before her granddaughter’s family moved to Woodlawn Avenue last month, the 9-year-old was expected to walk from her old house in the 2200 block of Grand Avenue to Niagara Street School, crossing several intersections along the way.

There are no traditional crossing guards along the route. They were eliminated from the city’s budget years ago as a cost-saving measure.

Adding to Deary’s concerns are the number of registered sex offenders living in the neighborhood — 17 from her check of an Internet registration site.

For those reasons, Deary said she made sure a family member gave her granddaughter a ride to school and to and from her after-school care center everyday.

“This system doesn’t make any sense,” Deary said.

Deary believes it may be time for the state to update its policy so the school district can get with the times.

“I think the busing system is outdated,” she said. “So what if it costs money. What’s a million dollars to make sure the kids in this town are safe? It’s a drop in the bucket.”

While the district is not in a financial position to be able to cover bus service for all students, Bianco said it continues to take steps to make sure students are as safe as possible.

While there are no longer crossing guards in the Falls, Bianco said teachers are paid extra to make sure children are safe while walking near the perimeter of their school. She said each school also has a student-to-student safety system in which older students are assigned to help younger kids make their way home. Bianco said upcoming capital projects have been designed to improve bus routes, parking arrangements and traffic flow near several schools. Parents who do not have any other option but to allow their children to walk to school, are encouraged to contact their school principal to see if they can pair up with other students who walk as well, Bianco said.

District officials announced last week plans to work with the city’s police department to update the “Safe Haven” program, which provides safe homes and businesses where students can seek help if they find themselves in trouble. The district also will give parents access to computers at each school so they can look up registered sex offenders in their neighborhoods.

“We have a concern with that too,” Bianco said.

Contact reporter Mark Scheer

at 282-2311, ext. 2250.

Recommended for you