LAND O’LAKES — Unable to regularly get all students to classes on time, the Pasco County school district has proposed overhauling its entire bell schedule in January to give bus drivers more time to complete all their routes.
The proposal calls for a move to a four-tier schedule rather than the current three. The changes could mean shifts of 10 to 20 minutes for some campuses, but more drastic swings of start and end times for others.
Some would see children going to school over an hour earlier, such as Hudson Academy, which would start at 7:10 a.m. rather than 8:40 a.m., and Anclote High, which would begin at 7:20 a.m. instead of 8:45 a.m. Others would get more time to sleep, including at Fivay and Wiregrass Ranch high schools, which would have the first bell at 8:10 a.m. instead of 7:25 a.m.
Superintendent Kurt Browning told parents of the proposal via email and YouTube video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g48GIzs5gg8) on Monday. The current situation, he said, is not acceptable.
“Chronically late buses remain the norm,” Browning said in his video. “Many of our students are late arriving at school in the morning, which results in the loss of instructional time, and they are late arriving at home in the afternoon and early evening, which puts a strain on families.”
Pasco is not the only district facing a bus driver shortage. The Pinellas County School Board plans to discuss its transportation struggles during a Tuesday workshop as well.
The situation was expected from the beginning of the academic year. And it’s not limited to Florida.
Pasco board chairperson Allen Altman said he saw ads seeking school bus drivers throughout the Midwest on a recent trip there, too.
Though the problem has been well defined, solutions have not been. Browning said Pasco’s latest step was not his administration’s first choice.
But other initiatives — such as increasing bus driver pay, expanding recruiting and having all employees with an eligible license drive the buses — did not solve the district’s situation.
He acknowledged that the proposed changes would affect every family, including those who have not experienced any difficulties. But sharing the burden will allow all children the opportunity to get a full day of schooling, he said.
Feedback came swiftly via social media, where parents and child care providers raised concerns about how changing schedules could have negative consequences for their transportation and related needs, which already are in place.
The operators of some performing arts groups suggested that the proposal could kill small businesses that have limited space to provide services that the school system cannot.
At least one parent suggested the district should use the opportunity to review the science of sleep, and adjust bell times to match children’s needs.
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Board members are scheduled to discuss the idea at a workshop that begins at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday. They would vote on a final plan at a later date, if they agree to move ahead.