By Todd Travis
As people watch those big yellow buses making their rounds through the neighborhood, they may not realize the sophistication required to pick up all those kids and get them to school on time – not to mention back home after school as well. Many of the schools on the Southside are facing issues with keeping enough drivers in the buses and enough substitutes to fill in when needed.
Greenwood Community Schools
Greenwood schools has had to combine some bus routes and even do double runs to help deal with these shortages. In addition to that, they have adjusted start times to help their buses arrive on time in the mornings. They do have one route that is slightly delayed by about 10-15 minutes in the evening, which they hope to address with a current driver in training.
“The only solution is to have a full set of bus drivers and substitutes. This is really a struggle right now to hire. We raised our pay considerably over the last year, but we still have not had a big difference in applicants,” said Terry Terhune, superintendent at Greenwood Community Schools.
Franklin Township Community Schools
Franklin Township has had fewer issues, although they are still looking to increase their bus staff.
“Like every other school district, we could always use more bus drivers, bus monitors, and substitute bus drivers,” mentioned Kent Pettet, Ph.D., chief communications and public relations officer at Franklin Township Community School Corporation.
Beech Grove City Schools
“Beech Grove City Schools is uniquely positioned to serve our small community with a structure that does not include school districts based on residency. Like Perry Township Schools, BGCS is deeply concerned about the number of school bus drivers employed in the district. Currently, we are fully staffed; however, we do not have enough substitute drivers employed to assist when full-time drivers are on leave,” explained Dr. Laura Hammack, superintendent of Beech Grove City Schools.
Perry Township Schools
Patrick Mapes, superintendent for Perry Township Schools, has faced a unique problem with the school’s choice program, making it even more difficult to keep the bus schedules running efficiently. Under the choice system, the buses are going to pick up students regardless of where they live. This program, coupled with the shortage of drivers, has caused many of the students to arrive up to an hour late to school and to be dropped off at home over an hour-and-a-half after school has ended.
Part of the solution Mapes has begun to implement, with some resistance, is ending the choice program and switching to a boundary system. He hopes to have this running as smoothly as possible before his upcoming retirement in June of 2023. With the boundary system, students within each marked boundary will receive first priority to enter that particular school. Students within Perry Township who request an intra-district transfer to a school outside their boundary will receive second priority. The third priority will go to students outside Perry Township who still want to go to Perry schools.
“It becomes an efficiency issue. We had buses with the capacity to hold 84 students that were traveling with only 24-32 students because of the distance they were traveling to get to an elementary school. And we still have that for the rest of this year. We’re not going to be on time until we get this established for next school year,” Mapes stated.
“It’s important to understand that current choice students are going to get priority to be placed over someone who just all the sudden wants to go to a different school. We’ve always had an employee perk that allows the children and grandchildren of employees to attend Perry Township schools, and that will remain in place as well,” said Mapes.
At this point, there is still a lot of planning to be done to implement this system and Mapes is calling upon parents to be patient as the system is being refined.
A final favor
As Mapes leads the charge to implement the new boundary system, he sees it as a final favor to the upcoming superintendent that will take his place.
“This has been a problem in the township for a while and something we’ve needed to address. Doing it this year allows the new person to come in and not have to tackle this in their first year on the job,” he pointed out.