Mornings throughout the school week can be chaotic for just about anyone, but Mesa Public Schools Governing Board is slowly piecing a plan together to combat student tardiness – which could include a shift in school start times.
The district has had a longtime punctuality battle with students who ride buses.
During a governing board meeting Feb. 26, Assistant Superintendent Scott Thompson highlighted the recent inability to meet scheduled drop-off and pickup times, mentioning buses occasionally dropped students off at school up to an hour late while others arrived over an hour early.
Thompson said prominent factors contributing to transportation disparities are unique schedules for choice-and-success schools and early release and late start schedules.
But Thompson emphasized the most pressing issue is the district’s driver shortage. Mesa currently has more than 50 unfulfilled driving positions.
In its annual report on school district spending, the state Auditor General last week also flagged Mesa’s “very high” transportation cost of $458 per student – higher than the per-pupil cost of $358 to districts of the same size and the $388 state average.
Broken down another way, the report said school buses cost Mesa $4.70 per mile or $1,555 per student – significantly higher than spending by both districts of similar size and the state average. Districts the same size spent $3.72 per mile, or $1,330 per student on buses; the state average was $4.05 and $1,301, respectively.
The bus driver shortage affects routes on a daily basis, Thompson said, because when drivers are unexpectedly absent or unable to drive their bus because of maintenance issues, entire routes have to be changed for the remaining drivers.
“That’s something that would typically happen once a month, maybe once a week. But [because of the shortage] we are doing [re-routing buses] hourly,” Thompson said.
To create a more efficient transportation system, the board is considering three tiers of schedules that would allow one diver to cover multiple routes, as well as a delay in school start times by at least 10 to 15 minutes that could be implemented at the start of the 2020-21 year.
The discussed solutions at the session assume the driver shortage will not be resolved in the near future, and are designed to be effective with the current number of drivers available to the schools.
Although the discussion on a potential shift in start times is a continuing conversation, Superintendent Ember Conley has already recognized many parents will have concerns with a shift in the schedule.
“When you change people’s start times, it rocks their world, even if it’s just ten to fifteen minutes,” Conley said.
All board members agreed special attention needs to be paid to transporting children to school on time.