DUNLAP — Amid bus driver shortage, Concord Community Schools has announced plans to change its school start times to better accommodate the bus fleet.
Although the corporation notes that changing school start times is still in the preliminary phase, officials said they believe one of the most efficient ways to alleviate the difficulties is to switch from the current two-tier bus system to a triple-tier system.
This move would allow three groups of students to begin their school day at the same time.
“We’re thinking that’s the solution that makes the most sense because we have so fewer drivers compared to a few years ago, but we have more kids since that time,” said Tim Tahara, assistant superintendent for Concord schools.
The corporation provides busing for about 4,000 students, roughly 75 percent of the student body.
Shannan Simon, the district’s transportation director, said the corporation is down 15 drivers within the last three years.
Currently, the corporation has 26 bus drivers. This includes 22 regular route drivers, two special needs drivers and two head start drivers.
Simon and other district officials believe the bus driver shortage could be related to a strong economy and said there’s a bus driver shortage nationwide.
The shortage of bus drivers is forcing many buses to make double runs – sometimes triple runs, Simon said. That’s when drivers make two or three stops in the same neighborhood, dropping off one set of kids before turning around to pick up the others.
“This year because of the extreme shortage, we’ve had to do a much larger number of double runs,” Simon said. “We’ve had to have a lot more of the drivers who have not done so in the past pick up, for example, all their Concord Intermediate students and go back to get their K-4 students and do the entire route again.”
With the double runs, the schools are having to let a large number of students in the buildings earlier than planned without enough adult supervision.
“The same happens in the afternoon because we have to do double runs and go back later to pick up kids who are holding for us,” Simon said.
To address the issue, the school district recently convened a transportation changes team consisting of teachers, administrators, parents and individuals representing academic, athletic and performing arts.
The district has also partnered with TransPar, a consulting group that specializes in school bus transportation.
Tahara said he believes moving to a three-tier system will increase the costs somewhat. He said the additional costs would result from additional working hours for bus drivers. Also, salaries are dependent on years of service and not all bus drivers work the same hours, making it difficult to say how cost might be affected at this point, he said.
But Tahara said the change needs to occur to make the corporation’s transportation plan manageable. Students still live in the same locations, but there will be fewer of them on each bus.
“Instead of having, say, 90 students assigned to a bus, we might only have 60 students assigned to a bus. They would all fit on one run,” he said.
At this point, the corporation doesn’t have a designated school for each tier. Tahara said brain research shows that the teenage brain does better later in the day than their younger peers.
“Many of our teachers would report that their young students in the K-4 buildings are struggling to stay focused at the end of the day because they’ve gotten up early and we’re trying to keep them focused on learning until 3:30 p.m.,” Tahara said. “They had a really long day and many teachers feel like moving the K-4 buildings earlier in the schedule makes sense for their capacity to learn.”
But school officials are still continuing to study possible solutions and want to get as much input as possible from the district’s transportation team as well as parents before making a decision.
“Until we feel we have a good plan from the consultants’ options and even after we feel we have a good plan, then we need time to communicate that to the community and would need time for parents and teachers to make changes in their schedules, principals to make changes in their school day,” Tahara said. “So it affects everyone. Everything is interrelated here.”
As for the timeline, officials hope to have the triple-tier system implemented at the start of the 2019-20 school year or possibly at the end of the current school year.