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Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Madison schools to alter class start times due to bus driver shortage

Madison schools will alter their start times beginning Nov. 6 in response to an ongoing shortage of bus drivers.

Madison schools will alter their start times due to a shortage of bus drivers, the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) announced on Oct. 23. 

MMSD is grappling with a shortage of bus drivers that has left students with inconsistent pick-up and drop-off times.

The changes will begin Nov. 6 and will affect 28 schools across the district. The start changes will last at least through the 2023-24 school year, a spokesperson for MMSD told The Daily Cardinal. 

Most schools affected by the decision will see start times shift by five minutes. However, Anana and Henderson Elementary Schools will see start times change by nearly an hour, from 7:40 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. 

The district found a change in start times to be the only viable solution after reports of students being picked up as much as 20 minutes late, arriving at school barely five minutes before classes start and, occasionally, not being picked up at all, the Cap Times reported

MMSD previously dropped Badger Bus as the district's bus provider in favor of First Student, a larger national contractor. During the bidding phase, First Student pointed to their larger pool of bus drivers and promised to offer a “two-tier” route system as opposed to the school district’s previous “three-tier” system.

A “three-tier” route system requires some schools to start later as drivers run three routes in the mornings and afternoons instead of the two routes they would run in a “two-tier” system. But a “three-tier” system uses fewer drivers.

MMSD Senior Executive Director of Building and Auxiliary Services Cedric Hodo said in February that a “two tier” system was “the No. 1 priority” in any consideration of a contract. 

Hodo expressed disapproval about the reversion to a “three-tier” system.

“We believe that that’s a breach of contract if we need to go back to a ‘three-tier’ system,” Hodo said, according to the Cap Times.

In regard to Hodo’s opinion and the legal ramifications for Student First, an MMSD spokesperson told the Cardinal the district’s legal services team “is in the process of reviewing options with regard to the contract.”

Madison is not the only school district to be affected by the shortage as schools around the country have faced a chronic lack of bus drivers. In August, schools across Louisville, Kentucky had to temporarily shut down in response to the shortage, bringing the issue to the forefront of national education policy. 

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Schools have been experiencing bus driver deficits for years, experts said, but the pandemic exacerbated it as drivers switched to higher-paying industry jobs or dropped out of the workforce altogether. 

The driver shortage can be traced back to a number of factors, including poor hours, an aging workforce and health concerns related to the pandemic. Bus drivers typically only work part-time, and the odd hours inherent in the job — early morning and mid-afternoon, with a gap in the middle — often prevent drivers from seeking other jobs to fill the day. 

“Today, people are looking for a solid amount of time. That middle break does not work for most people,” Molly McGee-Hewitt, CEO and executive director of the National Association for Pupil Transportation, told NPR

Additionally, low worker compensation has contributed to the shortages, but some school districts have resisted raising wages because personnel costs can often run over 80% of total school budgets.

First Student did not respond to a request for comment. 

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