‘Poor pay is why you have a driver shortage’: Pasco Co. bus drivers respond to proposed new start times

Pasco County

PASCO CO. (WFLA) – Debbie Parker’s voice cracked as she addressed school board members. She’s been a bus driver for the Pasco County School District for the past eight years and doesn’t think that changing start and stop times for students will solve the bus driver shortage. She believes a lack of pay is the issue.

“Every time we talk to people about becoming bus drivers, they love the benefits, but then when they look at the pay, they say that’s not a living wage,” said Parker, raising her hand to point at board members. “In fact, all of you should be ashamed of yourselves, because a lot of your drivers have to go to food banks to survive.

The district is dealing with a problem plaguing school districts nationwide. There simply aren’t enough bus drivers to get students to school on time.

Assistant Superintendent Betsy Kuhn told board members that Pasco County is not alone.

“What we’re hearing from our neighboring districts, things appear to be getting worse rather than better,” Kuhn told the board. “I spoke with my counterpart in Pinellas and in Hillsborough, and both of them are experiencing significant driver shortages that appear to be increasing and also late buses that appear to be increasing.”

Under the plan, the district would implement a four-tier plan with schools starting at 7:10, 8:10, 9:10 and 10:10 respectively.

Most students’ start and end times would vary by only about 30 minutes. Three schools in the county, Anclote High, Paul R. Smith Middle and Hudson Academy students would begin school more than an hour earlier than they currently do.

Superintendent Kurt Browning believes the system will alleviate the issue, but he doesn’t like it.

“But what else are we going to do,” asked Superintendent Browning. “We’ve got late buses. I’ve got kids an hour to an hour and a half late to school in some instances.”

Parker worries that the district’s solution will only create a larger problem.

“You’re going to lose bus drivers that have been with you, because of the change in the time that you have and they are going to lose the routes that they have worked to have,” Parker said.

The issue is scheduled to come before the board during the regular school board meeting on Nov. 2. The public will have an opportunity to address the school board at that meeting. If board members approve the plan, it would not go into effect until January.

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