PASCO COUNTY, Fla — Pasco County Schools has reluctantly rolled out its new school bell schedule to tackle its school bus driver shortage.
The district is starting some classes earlier and others far later to give those drivers more time to get kids to class on schedule.
The district says it treated the first day of its new school bus schedule like the first day of class with a call center to answer questions and elementary school kids wearing wristbands to make sure they get on the right bus.
Another challenge created by the new bell schedule is that some schools located near each other are seeing kids dropped off at around the same time now. The concern was that would create big traffic problems, but the district says, so far, the congestion hasn’t been much worse than what it had been previously.
“There may be some tweaking that’s going on right now, but yeah, I think the plan is a sound plan,” said Pasco School District spokesman Steve Hegarty. “We just need to work through some kinks and have this become the routine. It’s not the routine the first day.”
Pasco Schools had never changed its busing schedule in the middle of a school year, but facing a shortage of dozens of school bus drivers, kids were chronically getting to school late.
“We’re not happy about doing it. But we absolutely cannot just hope for the best when kids are losing instructional time,” Hegarty said. “So, we had to make a change.”
The district’s answer was to start some classes earlier and others later, giving the existing bus drivers a three-hour window to run four routes instead of three routes over the course of two hours.
So far? Not perfect, said Hegarty, “But for the most part it’s been much better than expected and much better than earlier this year.”
Parents who’ve criticized the plan say the expanded schedule means some kids will miss out on after-school activities.
Others, who now need to drop their kids off earlier or pick them up later say it’s disrupted their work schedule or forced them to pay more for childcare.
“He has had several different bus drivers,” Stephanie Sherrer said of her 6th-grade son. “And I have friends who have had their kids miss the first period completely because they had no busing.”
“I think that the new bell schedule should relieve some of the stress of not having enough bus drivers,” said parent Louis Vargas, “But it is inconvenient if you don’t have a schedule at home to accommodate it.”
Pasco Schools says it’s prepared to tweak by the system if needed but overall, they are committed to this new bus schedule for the spring semester.
They do plan to reevaluate over the summer based on the availability of more school bus drivers and how well this has or has not worked.
Another decision will then be finalized for the 2022-2023 school year.
Students who ride the bus to school will have to check their "myStudent" account to find out what time the bus will arrive. Pasco County School District leaders advise students to arrive five minutes before the intended time of the bus's arrival.
Start times for elementary schools in Pasco County School range from 7:10 a.m. to 10:10 a.m. and end anywhere between 1:30 p.m. to 4:20 p.m.
Middle school start times range from 7:10 a.m. to 9:10 a.m. and end anywhere from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.
High school start times begin between 7:10 a.m. and 9:10 a.m. and end anywhere between 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.
For a full list of all of the schools and their start and end times, click here.