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Pasco County School District considers changing school schedule to help with bus driver shortage

back of a school bus from the outside
Hillsborough County Schools
Pasco County is considering changing its school schedule to increase time in the classroom.

The proposal would stagger arrivals to four time slots instead of three — and change dismissal times.

Students at Pasco County’s 96 public schools could see their schedules change in January.

Like a lot of school districts across Florida, Pasco is dealing with a bus driver shortage. The Pasco School Board Tuesday started considering changing school hours in January to address ‘chronic’ late bus arrivals.

Pasco County School Superintendent Kurt Browningaddressed parents and the community about the potential change in a video released by the district Monday.

“During most school years, our school district struggles to hire and retain all of the bus drivers we need to provide the service that our students deserve,“ he said. “This year, the bus driver shortage is worse than ever.”

Officials have tried to fill the empty positions with job fairs, waiving background check fees, more advertising, and offering financial incentives. And while those efforts have helped, the district is still dealing with a shortage, Browning said.

That shortfall is causing issues. Students arrive late to class, buses are crowded, and there is more turnover and stress among bus drivers, according to the district.

“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.”

The proposal would stagger arrivals to four time slots instead of three, as well as change dismissal times. Every Pasco school would see some change.

Several schools, including Anclote High School, Paul R. Smith Middle School, and Hudson Academy would see schedules change by about an hour, according to thelist of prospective changes released by the district.

Pasco County School District spokesman Steve Hegarty said the move would be unusual for the middle of the school year, but the district has to find a way to navigate the driver shortage.

The Tuesday school board workshop started breaking down the logistics involved in shifting bus arrival and dismissal times.

"And that kind of widens the window of opportunity for us to get to school on time,” Hegarty said. “But it's going to have a big impact. Changing the school schedules in the middle of the year is very unusual."

Hegarty said the district already has heard from more than 400 parents and others about the proposal. Many said the changes would be an inconvenience — that the changes may make them late for work, or make it too difficult to wake up their child.

But a minority of parents have also commented that the changes might work better for their schedules, Hegarty added.

Browning acknowledged that the change was not the district’s first choice — and that it will have an impact on families. But, he said, students need predictability when it comes to their schedule.

The board will next discuss the proposal November 2.

Bailey LeFever is a reporter focusing on education and health in the greater Tampa Bay region.