Pasco County Schools changed its school starting and ending times at the beginning of the second semester because a bus driver shortage was causing many students to arrive to school late.
Now, despite those shifts, the district is facing the same problem for a different reason — now the bus driver shortage is largely due to drivers calling out — because they are ill, or can’t work because of some other reason.
Betsy Kuhn, the district’s assistant superintendent for support services, explained the situation during the Pasco County School Board’s Jan. 18 meeting.
“Under last semester’s three-tier system, we had 424 routes and we were 59 regular drivers short. We had 40 relief drivers,” Kuhn said.
By changing its system, the district cut the number of routes it needed to cover by 57.
“We’re now short 39 drivers and were able to add four relief drivers, bringing our total up to 44 relief drivers,” Kuhn said.
“We have six new drivers coming out of class this Friday and we have another class starting on Jan. 31,” Kuhn said.
The district continues to seek additional drivers.
“I actually spoke with a parent today about a late bus situation and she ended up becoming a recruit for us, for a part-time driver position,” Kuhn said. “So, we’re continuing to work with HR, to get the word out about opportunities in transportation.”
The district also is focusing on retention, Kuhn said.
“If you look at the numbers on paper, we are in a good position,” she said.
The problem is the high number of call-outs.
“We should be able to cover the open positions with relief drivers and office staff; unfortunately, our call-outs started at 23 on Jan. 4, the first day back.”
She noted the number has steadily climbed, from 23 to 33 to 41 to 45, during the first week of school in the second semester. The second week it was 43, 41, 49, 40 and 47.
On Jan. 18, the district had 48 driver call-outs and 23 assistant driver call-outs, Kuhn said.
She added: “So, that is very, very high and has resulted in buses that are later than we would like.”
The current situation has meant that while we have seen some positive results in some parts of the county that were previously hit hard, we are now seeing issues in other parts of the county.
“For example, buses served by Southeast Garage over in the Zephyrhills area have had a very difficult last few weeks due to those illnesses and call-outs.
“And so, we’ve had coverage that has been very difficult to cobble together and maintain,” Kuhn said.
“Many of our issues with late buses will not resolve, if we continue to have this high number of call-outs.
“I’ve spoken to my counterparts in other districts and they, too, are facing similar issues.
“One of them, in particular, said to me, it’s like September all over again. It does feel like that,” Kuhn said, but she added, the shift in start and end times did provide some relief.
“I want to thank our drivers, assistants, garage staff, schools and, of course, students and families for their patience,” Kuhn said.
“We have garage staff who are working to improve and work through any routing issues, but we do have a very high number of call-outs right now and we’re hopeful that that number will decline quickly, so that we can make this system work.”
School board member Alison Crumbley expressed her appreciation for teachers and other district staff, “and, in particular, right now, our bus drivers.
“It’s a tough time for them. I just want everybody to just hang in there a little bit longer.
“I wish I was at liberty to say things we are working on, but I’m not at this time,” Crumbley said, making an indirect reference to items that must be negotiated between the school board and the United School Employees of Pasco, the union representing district employees.
Crumbley added: “They (bus drivers) are so vital and so important to us right now. If we can’t get them (students) to school, there is no school.”
Published January 26, 2022