The Pasco County School Board has adopted school starting and ending times for the 2023-2024 school year, and despite tweaking and tightening bus routes, the district still has some schools beginning after 10 a.m.
While adopting the schedule for next school year, school board members said they realize that some of the starting and ending times pose difficulties for families.
It boils down to not having enough bus drivers to allow the school district to have more routes, which would reduce the amount of time it takes for buses to make their rounds — and thus be available for another run.
School board member Colleen Beaudoin told her colleagues and district staff: “I heard from a number of concerned parents about the bell times.”
She said she received the greatest number of concerns relating to Wiregrass Elementary, but said she also heard from families in New River and Seven Oaks.
The approved 2023-2024 start times for those schools are: Wiregrass Elementary, 9:40 a.m.; New River Elementary, 10:10 a.m.; and, Seven Oaks Elementary, 9:40 a.m.
“I know this is due mostly to the bus driver shortage,” Beaudoin said. But she added: “I feel for the families. I know this is extremely disruptive. It’s challenging for families. I want to acknowledge that.”
Betsy Kuhn, the school district’s assistant superintendent for support services, said many of the bell time changes being made this year are within either 10 minutes or 20 minutes, and many of those are being welcomed.
Still, she wishes the district did not have any 10:10 a.m. start times.
The schedule has been set up with the goal of getting students to school on time.
“If we lose a bunch of drivers, we could be in a very different position,” Kuhn said.
The school district has 319 routes and currently has openings for 45 bus drivers and 60 relief drivers. It also has schools of varying sizes and different programs.
Plus, it has six bus compounds and four bell tiers.
All of that adds up to a complicated scheduling system.
Beaudoin noted that trying to change the bell times for one school has a domino effect on other schools, so there are no easy solutions.
School board member Cynthia Armstrong said she’d received lots of emails from parents at Starkey Ranch K-8. The approved start time there for 2023-2024 is 8:10 a.m.
Armstrong said she thinks part of the issue is the lack of consistent bell times from year to year.
But Pasco County Schools Superintendent Kurt Browning responded: “I wouldn’t get too wed to consistency anytime soon. We’re growing so fast, we’re adding a school a year.”
“As long as it grows, we’re going to have challenges with transportation,” Browning said.
Published April 26, 2023