LAND O' LAKES, Fla. — Pasco County Schools is considering adding a fourth tier of bell times to help alleviate the impacts of the bus driver shortage.

“No one in the district likes this plan - including the superintendent, but it is what it is. We have to do something," said Superintendent Kurt Browning. 

What You Need To Know

The district's director of transportation, Gary Sawyer, and Assistant Superintendent Betsy Kuhn laid out the plan for school board members at a workshop Tuesday afternoon. Under the proposal, schools would begin their days at either 7:10, 8:10, 9:10, or 10:10.

Most schools would see their days shift 30 minutes earlier or later. Paul R. Smith Middle School, Anclote High School, and Hudson Academy would see the largest shifts, with each beginning their days more than an hour earlier. 

Sawyer and Kuhn said that, like schools across the state and country, Pasco schools have been struggling with a shortage of bus drivers. They said on a typical day, the district is short 59 regular drivers. When it comes to relief drivers, there are 40 filled positions and 37 vacancies. As for absenteeism, an average day can see 61 drivers out, and this can be even worse with COVID.

While the district has held job fairs, offered financial incentives, and even requested help from the National Guard, which is a resource they say other districts have turned to, nothing has put a sufficient dent in the shortage.

According to the district, students have faced long waits at the bus stop, crowded conditions on board, and, in some schools, it's become normal for buses to be so late that students miss the entire first period. Officials said thousands of children are impacted everyday. 

“It’s been rough. It’s been rough on families, it’s been rough on drivers. When you start out 120 drivers short and you still have to pick up the same number of kids, it’s problematic," said Browning.

The proposed plan is expected to have wide-ranging impacts, including on after school sports and activities, school athletics, childcare, and food service, which would have to adjust times.

Spectrum Bay News 9 spoke with parents waiting to pick their children up outside Pineview Elementary and Middle Schools on Tuesday afternoon. Under the plan, both schools would have their start and dismissal times pushed back half an hour.

“Families are on a schedule. You know - certain time they need to pick their child up and certain time they need to drop them off, and if you change this schedule now, what is it going to do? Especially those that have to be in work already," said Emily Bender. 

“I feel like schedules are really going to change, especially for working families that may need to adjust their work schedules. If their companies won’t allow them to change their work schedules, then how are they going to pick up their kids from school and have dinner time at night, go to after school programs?” said Laura Keezen. 

"It will be a big challenge because the time we leave to go in the morning, the kids may still be at home," said Dominic Chifanba.

According to the district, the plan would cut the daily shortage from 87 routes that need to be covered to 24 routes. It's expected to reduce crowding, improve safety by cutting down bus stop wait times, and help kids get to class on time. Browning had a message for families regarding the plan.

“Be patient with us," he said. "Understand the big picture collectively. We understand. Many of my staff are parents. We have kids in our system. It is a shift, I know that it’s a shift - particularly in the middle of the school year. I wish that we didn’t have to do this, but we do have a responsibility to make sure that all - each - of our children get to school on time.”

The school board is expected to vote on the proposal November 2. If approved, it would go into effect on January 4.