ROCKFORD (WREX) – A big decision from Rockford’s school board came down on Tuesday, to change when students start class. This September, most students will start school 10 to 15 minutes later or earlier and it’s all because of a school bus driver shortage.
For three years, RPS 205 has struggled to fill its roster of school bus drivers.
“I have 30 driver job openings currently,” RPS 205’s transportation executive director Michael Slife said.
That’s why it’s changing it’s bus schedule for next fall to have fewer drivers responsible for more routes.
“We have to find ways and be creative and find ways to pick up all our students with less people and less equipment,” Slife said.
But the new schedule means most school times have to change, effecting elementary, middle and high schools.
“Our start time is changing and at this time,” Thurgood Marshall Elementary School principal Jessica Powell said. “We’re still working with transportation to solidify it. The minimum is that our start time will move forward 5 minutes, but we’re potentially looking at a roll up of about 20 minutes.”
Right now, the district says a student spends an average of 21 minutes on a bus, but that could be cut down to about 19 minutes, so less time on the bus for students.
“Because now our students will be riding as their own route, that will shorten their route and in turn make their day a little more comfortable as travel time is concerned,” Powell said.
However, some RPS 205 parents are concerned about how the new schedule will impact their students in the fall, especially elementary students getting picked up early in the morning.
“The earliest pickups around 6 a.m. Right now, that’s not going to change,” Slife said. “It won’t be earlier than that even though we’re picking up earlier for elementary, because we’ll have more equipment to use, more drivers.”
With reduced routes and fewer drivers, RPS 205 says the new bus schedule will save the district about $600,000 next school year.
The new schedule will also mean bus drivers will work longer days. RPS transportation says instead of working 5 to 6 hours a day, drivers will average closer to an 8-hour day of driving.