PERRY TOWNSHIP, Ind. — In order to ease the critical bus driver shortage, Perry Township Schools is considering major redistricting for elementary schools and kindergarten academies. The district is fully staffed with 140 drivers and currently have 102.
“On any given day, we could have from 600 to 1,500 students who are arriving home an hour late because the buses have to take a load home, then they’ll come back pick up another load at school and take them home,” Associate Superintendent Chris Sampson said. “Kind of dire straits and nobody wants their kids to get home at 5:30 or 6:00 at night every night.”
Three options have been proposed for handling the driver shortage. The first is establishing new boundaries for all 11 elementary schools and offering transportation only within those boundaries where the students must attend school.
The second is establishing those boundaries, offering bus transportation within those zones, but allowing intra-district transfers.
“If parents have the ability to drive their own student to those schools and those schools have the capacity to handle those students,” Sampson explained.
The third would not make changes to the way things are operating now which is allowing elementary students to choose which school they attend on either the west or east side, and offering transportation to all students.
Parents we spoke with don’t feel the district has done enough to study the problem nor put in enough effort to retain or recruit bus drivers.
“The bus driver profession needs to be treated like a profession and a career not just a part-time job that somebody is going to go and do,” Chad Bussell said.
Bussell recalled last meeting district leaders said they have a difficult time retaining bus drivers because they find students’ behavior challenging. Bussell is concerned the proposed changes will only exacerbate the issue leading to more problems with driver retention.
“If you’re going to try to cram every little seat, every square meter of the bus together, I don’t see how you’re going to retain bus drivers if that’s a concern,” Bussell said.
Samantha Kirk, Jeremiah Gray Elementary PTA President, expressed frustration over what she and other parents say is a lack of communication from the administration on these proposed changes.
“There are parents to this day that still do not know that redistricting is happening, that the boundaries across the township are going to be redrawn,” Kirk said.
Kirk said a survey was sent home to students and families who would be impacted by the proposals. The district confirmed 24% of those families responded.
“Of the 25% that was turned in, 60% said they would drive their kids to school if that meant keeping them in the same school,” Kirk said. “But, they’re dismissing that.”
These proposed changes could mean students in one school could start classes at a different time than their siblings.
“So for working parents, again not having the ability to accurately get the information out to be able to get daycare going,” Kirk said.
Sampson said the administration and the board has engaged in two school board meetings at the start of the year, two PTA events at Jeremiah Gray Elementary and Rosa Parks Elementary, made themselves available for meetings and to respond to emails and administered the surveys, all in an attempt to communicate the possible changes to parents and families.
The board will vote on the proposals during next Monday’s board meeting.