PASCO COUNTY, Fla. -- An ongoing shortage of bus drivers has created a ripple effect of issues for school districts across the Bay area.
The Pasco school district remains down about 50-plus drivers. Drastic measures like school bell times and bus routes had to be changed to compensate. But that hasn't been a solution for all, as some students that previously had a bus ride to school no longer do.
On this episode of To The Point Already, Bay News 9 anchors Rick Elmhorst and Roy De Jesus, talk with school transportation officials, parents and a bus driver about the issues created by the shortage and ideas to fix the issues.
Where in previous years Pasco had 420 school bus routes, the district now makes due with 332. Start times also have been staggered between 7 a.m. and 10 a.m.
"We've tried to make up for the shortages by making routes as efficient as possible," said Betsy Kuhn, Pasco School's Assistant Supervisor of Support Services. "We're doing everything we can to mitigate this shortage - just as Hillsborough, Pinellas and every district around the state has these same challenges."
The district has held job fairs and offered financial incentives, but the driver shortage remains (as is much the same in other Bay area counties).
Last school year in Pasco, district officials said students faced long waits at the bus stop, crowded conditions on board, and, in some schools, it was normal for buses to be so late that students miss the entire first period.
So something had to be done.
That doesn't mean the overall problem has been alleviated or that parents and students are happy. In fact, some parents remain quite unhappy.
Parent Brian Askins said the number of kids picked up at the same stop has been lowered due to the distance - even if it is just a three or four house difference. And even if a particular student previously rode that bus.
Askins said his daughter's safety, as well as that of other children in the neighborhood, is the most important thing. He said having her walk two miles, partially along a busy roadway and conservation area without a sidewalk, is unsafe and unacceptable.
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He said he remains concerned with a lack of "common sense approach to safety."
"You didn't take away the stop," Askins said. "You just kicked three kids off that stop that are no longer allowed to ride."
Fellow neighborhood parent Carolina Maldonado had the same concerns: "It makes no sense to me the bus is still coming here and our kids (are) a few houses down are unable to ride the bus."
So with no influx of drivers coming, Bay area districts continue to face transportation issues as another school year nears.
ABOUT THE SHOW
Spectrum Bay News 9 anchor Rick Elmhorst sits down with the people that represent you, the people fighting for change and the people with fascinating stories to ask the hard questions.