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Important conversations ahead for Olathe families as district could shift start times due to driver shortage

Posted: 3:00 PM, Sep 04, 2023
Updated: 2023-09-04 23:45:51-04

VOICE FOR EVERYONE | Share your voice with KSHB 41’s Megan Abundis

Important conversations are ahead for Olathe Public Schools families as the district plans to change school start times due to a lack of bus drivers.

During the 2022-23 school year, 7,280 students in the district rode the bus.

However, due to bus driver shortages, necessary interventions were made, which reduced the number of bus riders.

Currently, more than 4,500 students ride a school bus — that’s 15.5% of the district’s total student population.

KSHB 41 News reporter Megan Abundis sat down with the district officials, parents and bus drivers to discuss what’s to come.

Parents on standby

Matt Andrews
Matt Andrews, Olathe School District parent

Matt Andrews' kids have always been a part of Olathe's payride program.

“One is 15 years old at the high school and the other is 8 years old and goes to middle school,” he said.

Andrews said the bus stop has always been on his block.

“It was within sight, but now, since they deemed that we are under a mile — actually, 0.96 miles based upon their measurement — there’s no bus at all,” Andrews said. “Our kids don’t have that option. I take her in the morning, and my wife picks her up after school.”

While he said his family tried to carpool, ultimately both parents had to change work schedules to make it happen.

The district's goal is to try to avoid such situations by switching to a more efficient three-tiered bus system using the current bus drivers, meaning school start times would change for every family.

Details of the new system will be decided through district-wide surveys and feedback groups.

Becky Grubaugh, executive director of communications for the district, explained there will be three committees made up of each schooling level — high school, elementary and middle.

Staff members, parents and educators will help work out the issues before the bell times are implemented. Then, that information will be presented to DS Bus Lines, who ultimately staff the drivers.

School district discusses possible changes

Becky Grubaugh
Becky Grubaugh, executive director of communications for Olathe School District.

Though the possible changes may be tough for families, Grubaugh said they're needed.

“If we move to a three-tier system, the number of bus drivers needed will decrease, which will ensure we can provide consistent transportation for a larger number of students,” Grubaugh said.

Last spring, Olathe families faced a flood of transportation changes.

Eventually, the district had to implement rolling transportation blackouts.

“Last year, we were finding kids were arriving late and routes were taking longer,” Grubaugh said.

The district came up with a bounty of solutions revolving around new school start times but did not vote to implement any.

“We just found that our community just wasn’t quite ready to make that level of systemic change,” Grubaugh said.

One of the changes that was made, however, was the elimination of the payride program at the middle and high schools.

“It doesn’t really meet our district's expectations in terms of our district's access to educational opportunities for all,” she said. “We had to eliminate services for kids, and that’s created a new set of challenges. While this may have helped address one set of challenges, it’s brought some other concerns with it.

"We knew that wasn’t going to be sustainable, and so we implemented interventions for this year to get through the school year, but it’s a kind of a band-aid fix — this problem isn’t going anywhere.”

Thus, the district hopes to reintroduce the three-tier bell schedule conversation again.

Bus drivers navigate challenges

Glenda Chaplin
Glenda Chaplin, bus driver

Glenda Chaplin has been driving at DS Bus Lines for years.

“I love driving this,” Chaplin said. “Yes, it’s a big vehicle — it’s 40-feet long. A lot of people look at that and go, 'Wow, you drive a bus? Why?' I go, 'I love it, the kids are great.'”

She navigated the challenges of the 2022-23 school year with grace.

“Not only did we drive our regular route, but we might also have helped with another route,” Chaplin said. “We might have done a couple of trips that day to help. Anything we could do to get the kids around where they needed to go."

What's next

Olathe Public Schools works to provide "consistency and predictability" to families, according to Grubaugh.

So, KSHB's Megan Abundis asked whether anyone would be allowed to ride the bus if the proposed changes were implemented.

“Our hope is that we’re able to find a schedule where we could remove that intervention around pay ridership that was implemented this year,” Grubaugh said.

Still, Andrews hopes his children receive their bus service back, but he understands the change in start times may be necessary.

“I just want the bus back,” Andrews said. “Adjust the schedule as you need and bring the bus back. I personally wish they would make the bus driver position a year-round, full-time position and pay them, so that way they could get enough of them. But if they can’t or won’t do that, shifting the school schedule sounds like a reasonable approach.”

Moving forward, Grubaugh said the district is open to feedback and is taking its time in the decision process.

By not rushing a decision, Grubaugh said the district can avoid bringing back rolling blackouts and can create permanency.

The district hopes to have a plan finalized by winter, with new bell times taking effect next fall.