Pasco County Schools has decided to end courtesy bus rides for middle and high school students beginning in the 2022-2023 school year, as the district continues to grapple with issues posed by a shortage of bus drivers.
Steve Hegarty, public information officer for Pasco County Schools, said the district has decided to drop the rides for middle and high school students living within 2 miles of their schools because the state doesn’t cover the cost of transporting those riders.
There are about 3,000 bus riders that fall into that category, Hegarty said.
Discontinuing those services will take some of the strain off the bus driver shortage, which in turn should help with getting students to school on time and reduce wait times for students to catch a bus after school to head home.
The district is not dropping the courtesy rides it provides for elementary students, Hegarty added.
Hegarty said the district is getting pushback from parents whose children are losing their bus rides. However, he suspects there also will be parents who will be pleased when the district can improve being on time with its buses.
He also noted the district put the word out as soon as it could, to give parents more lead time to prepare for next school year.
While acknowledging the issue is an operational decision, some school board members said they’d been hearing from parents who are worried about safety, and they share those concerns.
At the school board’s April 5 meeting, board member Megan Harding said she understands that dropping those courtesy rides will free up many runs.
But Harding added: “I see people zooming through school zones and students not crossing at proper crosswalks.”
She rattled off a number of roads that she said are potentially dangerous for walkers.
She asked if the district could request traffic studies at intersections on particularly busy roads, to determine if crossing guards are warranted.
“I know that our families are really worried about their children’s safety, and I really am, too,” she said.
Board member Alison Crumbley said she feels empathy for parents and students who are concerned, but said she believes the district is doing the best that it can, with its resources.
On another matter, board members approved adding a job description for a program director for academic tutoring.
Vanessa Hilton, the district’s chief academic officer, explained the position relates to a state grant the board approved in January, and the position will be funded through the grant.
“This position would lead the effort of school-based tutoring that is going to be developed because of COVID. The grant provided by FDOE (Florida Department of Education) requires districts to implement a specific tutoring program using the state resources. It requires specific training, specific procedures, specific implementation.”
Board members wanted assurances that the position would not be funded beyond the grant.
Superintendent Kurt Browning said the position goes away, once the grant funds run out. If the district wants to continue with someone in that role, it will come back to the board for its approval, Browning said.
There are numerous positions in the district, now paid for with federal funds, that will go away once those COVID-19 related funds disappear, Browning said.
“We’re not going to be falling off the financial cliff,” Browning said.
In other news, school board member Colleen Beaudoin told her colleagues that she was delighted to hear that the district is expanding its early childhood programs to four additional elementary schools beginning next school year.
The additional schools are Connerton, Veterans, Trinity and Seven Springs, which will bring the district’s total number of schools with early childhood programs to 38.
On another item, the board voted to increase the price for some meals for the upcoming school year. These are the categories that increased: Elementary school breakfast, up from $1.35 to $1.60; elementary school lunch, up from $2.50 to $3; middle school breakfast, up from $1.50 to $1.75; high school breakfast, up from $1.50 to $1.75; high school lunch, up from $3.25 to $3.50; adult breakfast, up from $1.75 to $2.
Published April 13, 2022