Pasco County Schools has announced its planned bell times for the coming year — as it continues struggling with a bus driver shortage.
In the school year that just wrapped up, the district changed its bell times at mid-year because it couldn’t attract enough drivers to cover all of its routes.
It was a massive shuffle, affecting schools across the district.
Some of the shifts were relatively minor, but there were 24 elementary schools that didn’t begin the school day until 10:10 a.m.
In the coming year, six elementary schools and two other schools will have that 10:10 a.m. start time.
At a May 17 school board meeting, the board adopted next year’s bell schedule.
They did so, after Betsy Kuhn, assistant superintendent for support services, recapped why the start and end times had to be shifted across the district in the 2021-2022 school year, which concluded last week.
“At the beginning of this school year, transportation had 420 routes,” Kuhn said. “As you are fully aware, we did make some significant changes for second semester, beginning second semester with 367 routes. At this point in time, we have 353,” Kuhn said.
Changes have been made for the coming year with the goal of creating the most efficient plan possible, while ensuring that students can be transported to and from school safely. The district also made significant efforts to reduce the number of schools with 10:10 a.m. start times, she said.
“We went from 24 elementary schools to a proposal of six elementary schools and then two additional schools, East and West Pasco Education Academy, starting at that time.
“This proposal is certainly not perfect, but we believe it is a big improvement and will allow us to take the steps that we need to, to be as efficient as we can, given our driver shortage,” she said.
Kuhn also told board members: “It is important to note that even with this very efficient plan, we will be starting the school year down 22 drivers, if we have everyone currently employed with us, staying with us.
“We will be focusing efforts again and continuing on recruitment and, very importantly, retention this summer and throughout the next school year,” Kuhn said.
School board member Colleen Beaudoin also noted that the district will revisit the issue, should the district’s bus driver situation improve significantly.
Kuhn confirmed potential changes could occur, but noted that even if the district added a several drivers, they would need to be in the right area of the district in order for changes to work.
However, Kuhn said the district is open to making changes, if they are possible, and will bring a proposal forward if that happens.
Board Chairwoman Cynthia Armstrong told Kuhn: “We know you’re working hard on that and we also know how important it is to our parents that we get it right, so we’re going to keep working on it and do the best we can.”
School board member Megan Harding said she understands “how frustrating this (10:10 a.m. start time) can be to our families, and our school teachers and staff.”
But Harding added: “It does come down to the number of buses. (Kuhn) did explain to me that determining which schools are in which tier — I thought she put this perfectly — is like a puzzle.”
The district needs to balance the number of buses evenly, so that it does not have more buses in one tier, compared to the other, Harding said. It also has to look across six bus garages.
“Additionally, even when the tiers are balanced, with the number of buses per tier, transportation staff has to look at the routes to make sure they fit together.
“Given our driver shortage, we have to be as efficient as possible, so students arrive to school on time and are picked up on time,” Harding continued.
Besides being short on regular drivers, the district also is short on relief drivers, Harding noted.
To find out the bell times for your school next year, visit the district’s website, Pasco.k12.fl.us.
Published June 01, 2022