Facing bus driver shortage, Pasco approves changes to school start and end times

School officials in Pasco County say changes must be made as they can’t continue to have students arriving late to school due to the district’s bus driver shortage. On Tuesday, the school board voted unanimously to alter the bell schedule to help fix the problem.

For some schools, this means adjusting that start time by only 10 minutes, but for other schools, it means a difference of over an hour and a half. The changes will take effect in January.

The vote comes as Pasco County public schools continue to deal with a significant bus driver shortage in their district. The ongoing problem has led to students not arriving at school on time and continuously missing classes.

The new start times will allow drivers to get students to school in four different stages instead of the current three.

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The earliest start time will change to 7:10 a.m. with the final bell ringing at 1:30 p.m. The last group of students would start their school day at 10:10 a.m. and wrap up at 4:20 p.m.

Superintendent Kurt Browning said he recognizes these are big changes, but he believes they are necessary ones to make sure students can continue to learn.

"We cannot continue to have a large group of students who are chronically late arriving at school through no fault of their own," said Browning. "This challenge is not unique to Pasco but it is up to us to solve it. We have a responsibility as a school community to do everything we can to provide all students with the opportunity to learn and that includes having a consistent and predictable start and end to their school day."

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To put in perspective some of the changes, Wiregrass Elementary School currently starts at 9:40 a.m. with the school day ending at 3:50 p.m.

Originally, the district proposed changing the start time by 30 minutes. However, in their latest proposal, Wiregrass Elementary would start at 8:10 a.m., with the last bell ringing at 2:20 p.m. The change would be a 90-minute difference.

The district has a shortage of about 100 drivers every day, including backup drivers. The superintendent believes the schedule changes will spread out the route schedules enough to get students to school on time.

Don Peace, president of the United School Employees of Pasco, doesn't love the plan but he realizes the district may have no other option.

"I think this is the last ditch effort to try to put a Band-Aid on a bad situation," he said, adding he worries about the financial burden placed on employees and families who may now have to upend their daily schedules. "I think we need to make sure that we do the best job that we can to mitigate circumstances where it upsets financial responsibilities that families have."

PDF: View the full list of changes