A shortage of bus drivers prompted Cleveland City Schools officials to consider changes to school start times for the upcoming academic year to improve the consistency of bus routes.
Administrators are seeking input from parents by Wednesday on several start time options for elementary, middle and high school students, according to a statement issued Wednesday. The options are based on recommendations from a recent transportation study and system leadership, officials said.
Cleveland City Schools Director of Operations Hal Taylor presented information from the transportation study during Monday's school board meeting, which concluded with three recommendations to adjust school start times and stagger bus routes.
"The study showed that no matter what we considered to improve our driver retention and availability, we would have to adjust our start times at the schools to allow for more time to pick up children," Taylor said in the statement.
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School district officials know change can be difficult, especially when it impacts adults and children, but this change may be imperative to ensure students receive uninterrupted education, Cleveland Director of Schools Russell Dyer said in a statement.
"If changes aren't considered, we could face similar problems in the upcoming school year," Dyer said.
A survey has been sent to school system staff and student families to provide feedback on options, district spokeswoman Caroline Corrigan said Thursday in a phone interview.
Currently, the city's seven elementary schools start at 8:15 a.m. and end at 3:15 p.m., and Cleveland Middle School and Cleveland High School start at 7:45 a.m. and end at 2:45 p.m., Corrigan said. The three proposed start time options are staggered, with a mix of elementary, middle and high school hours for parents to choose from. Start times range from as early as 7:15 a.m. to as late as 9:15 a.m., with dismissal times ranging from 2:15 p.m. to 4:15 p.m.
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"We are not unique. We are one of many school systems struggling to find more bus drivers," Corrigan said, acknowledging that other counties are competing for bus drivers, too.
There are about 5,800 students in the city school system, of which 1,616 are bus riders on one of the system's fleet of 26 buses, she said.
"We have 42 regular bus routes and nine special education routes," she said. "In addition, we provide transportation to athletic and extracurricular activities."
The system is desperate for qualified bus drivers, Corrigan said.
A new requirement that went into effect last year in Tennessee for school bus drivers to have a commercial driver's license to operate a school bus has also had a significant impact on the number of available drivers, according to Corrigan.
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"Ten years ago, someone could have walked in our doors, apply and pass a background check, and we could get them behind the wheel in two to three weeks," Corrigan said. "With this new law, now it's two to three months. When you come to us we'll train you and pay you during that training."
Corrigan said the impact of new school schedules on athletics and after-school activities would have to be determined after parents and school staff weigh in on the options.
"We're already seeing a lot of positive feedback, so it's nice to know that people are taking the survey and families are paying attention," she said.
The way the survey works, results won't be known until after the survey period is closed, she said.
"I believe it'll be discussed again at the April board meeting," she said. "We're excited to see those results."
Surveys have been emailed to parents in the district. If you did not receive one, please call the school system's central office at 423-472-9571.
POSSIBLE START TIMES
Cleveland City Schools this week issued three possible options for school start times for parents and staff to review as the system seeks ways to address an ongoing bus driver shortage.
Cleveland High and Yates Primary — 7:15 a.m. to 2:15 p.m.
Cleveland Middle and Candy's Creek Cherokee Elementary — 8:15 a.m. to 3:15 p.m.
Other elementary schools — 9:15 a.m. to 4:15 p.m.
Cleveland Middle — 7:15 a.m. to 2:15 p.m.
Elementary — 8:15 a.m. to 3:15 p.m.
Cleveland High — 9:15 a.m. to 4:15 p.m.
Cleveland Middle and Cleveland High — 7:30 to 2:30 p.m.
Elementary — 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Source: Cleveland City Schools
Contact Ben Benton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6569.