Shawnee Public Schools District is asking for input by parents to weigh in on a decision that could potentially change their morning routines. Parents are encouraged to share input with an online survey.

THE ISSUE: Shawnee Public Schools, like the nation, is battling an ongoing issue with bus driver shortages.

LOCAL IMPACT: Shawnee parents may soon face changes in school-day schedules for some children if proposed changes are approved.

Shawnee Public Schools District is asking for input by parents to weigh in on a decision that could potentially change their morning routines. Parents are encouraged to share input with an online survey.

A three-tiered bus system is on the table for the district to address ongoing issues with transportation — but in order to make the switch, middle-schoolers would need to wake up earlier for school.

The proposal came about after Shawnee Board of Education members gathered to discuss how to deal with an ongoing school bus driver shortage.

John Wiles, director of distribution and transportation, said the trend has a nationwide problem.

“Since November 2009, 58 percent of school districts reported experiencing a bus driver shortage,” he said. By November 2015, 92 percent of the nation's school districts were battling the issue of not enough drivers for their buses, he said.

Recent changes in the Commercial Drivers License (CDL) Exam has made it more difficult to pass. That, along with driver pay, job market competition, split shift work, part-time work, and dealing with students while driving are major factors contributing to the shortage, Wiles said.

“Durant went to paying drivers $12 per hour, but it didn't help at all,” he said.

Wiles explained the benefits of changing the bus routing system from a two-tier to a three-tier model.

“Right now, we operate in a two-tier system where we run the elementary routes and then go back out and run the middle and high school routes, using 14 buses,” he said.

Wiles told the board that switching to a three-tier system would allow the district to use fewer buses — 11 of them — which would ease the driver shortage, as well as save money with (a proposed 27-percent) fewer buses, meaning less operational cost.

Wiles added, “Sapulpa (Public Schools Transportation Director Tom Potter) said changing to a three-tier system three years ago was one of the best things they ever did.”

However, changing to three routes requires a shift in the bell schedule, Wiles said.

Shawnee Public Schools Superintendent Dr. April Grace said the most viable option with the least impact to the district would be if the middle school started classes earlier.

If approved, the change would begin classes an hour earlier — changing from the current first bell at 8:20 a.m. to a start time at 7:20 a.m., with the last bell to end at 2:25 p.m.

If the middle school altered its schedule, none of the other schools would have to make any changes, Grace said.

It's really difficult to change times for the elementary children or the high school, she said, with the problem of letting young students out of school so early, as well as early-morning high school band practice and after-school sports schedules, among other things.

Wiles said an upside to the three-tier system is shorter routes — meaning less time on the bus for students.

“The earliest bus stop in the morning would change by about 15-20 minutes — from 7:05 a.m. to around 6:45 a.m.,” Wiles said.

The proposal is not without its challenges, Board member April Stobbe said.

“The middle school sports at the end of the day would have them done by 4 p.m.,” Stobbe said. “That's going to be hard for parents who are used to picking them up around 5.”

Grace said another challenge would be for middle school staff who have elementary school age children going to school after the parent has to report to work.”

Right now Grace and her fellow board members are just looking at options — it is unsure if the proposal is even something the district wants to chase, she said.

“We have a need to do it. We'll do some exploration,” she said.

As a result, Joey Slate, Shawnee Middle School (SMS) principal, has announced that SMS has begun the process of collecting survey information for the proposed time change.

Parents of Shawnee middle school students (or fifth-graders) are encouraged to provide feedback to the district's school board.

To complete the survey, visit the homepage of the Shawnee district website at www.shawnee.k12.ok.us.

You can reach Vicky O. Misa at (405) 214-3962.