This article is part of a series by Springfield Daily Citizen’s education reporter, Cory Matteson, comparing the school board candidates’ responses to topical questions.
Q: A survey of SPS parents and teachers last year found that a majority of parents believed the district’s current staggered start times for their children’s schools were not meeting their needs. Given that the staggered starts are tied to bus driver staffing issues, what is a path forward that works for SPS and parents?
Kelly Byrne: It’s not a given that the staggered starts are tied to bus driver staffing issues. What we do know is starting school for many of our students at 9:30 isn’t working. It needs to be changed and Dr. Lathan, I believe, has recognized this very quickly. The district has raised bus driver pay, and any shortages seem to be headed in the direction of being filled. We must value reasonable starting times when considering transportation in the future, and this may just be an issue of priority within the budget.
Chad Courtney: I think a compromise must be achieved to alter the start times back to a two-tiered approach as has been discussed during recent board meetings. I think everyone understands the issues and problems presented by the three-tier system. The board is addressing this issue this spring and I think, based on statements made at the meetings, a return to a two-tiered start time with the second start time not being later than 8:30 a.m. for the high school students is achievable.
I think the cooperation and work with the bus drivers to increase pay and benefits will entice the number of drivers needed to operate a two-tier system more efficiently.
Steve Makoski: First and foremost, my hat’s off to Dr. John Mulford, Deputy Superintendent – Operations for his leadership to address busing issues. Dr. Mulford arrived at SPS in July 2021 and hit the ground running to get ahead of transportation and human resource challenges in staffing transportation. Though busing is a nationwide problem, SPS is not immune to staffing issues and staggering start times for our schools. My assessment is that Dr. Mulford and his team are on the right path to return our transportation and scheduling back to some sense of normalcy. Transportation’s mission is to provide safe, efficient, and economical transportation in which that mission continues. Currently SPS offers an excellent menu of benefits, i.e.:
- Starting pay $20/hour
- Paid CDL training
- Paid medical benefits
- Paid holidays
- No nights or weekends
It is my impression that SPS is on the right path and should stay the course. Eventually, we will return to some sense of normalcy or learn to adjust to what might be a new norm to SPS busing.
Charles Taylor: It’s clear that the well-intended plan to expand transportation access for students throughout the district, developed in collaboration with a community advisory group before the pandemic took hold, has not achieved its desired goals. Indeed, the adjustments to start times for many district buildings, coupled with the driver shortage, have created significant challenges for working families throughout the district (including families of our own teachers/staff). The current model is simply not sustainable, and the board will review recommendations from district administration in March for implementation in the 2022-23 academic year. While there are financial impediments to creating a perfect transportation model, I hope we can craft alternatives that create less disruption, align start times with compelling data that suggests adolescents and teens could benefit cognitively from later start times, and assure equitable transportation options for all students, including those who participate in our expanded portfolio of choice programs outside their “home attendance zone.”
Brandi VanAntwerp: First, I think the change in schedule came with a good intention, which was to expand busing to more students who need it. Unfortunately, the staggered start times have created new logistical problems for many students and parents, but I am optimistic that the next school year will be smoother. SPS’s deputy superintendent, John Mulford released the plan to revise the schedule, and he is scheduled to present it in March to the current board members. The difficulty of shifting those start times back is the impact it will have on bus eligibility for students. Transportation barriers are all too common for many families in Springfield. Going backward by reducing the reach of busing will cause hardship on our kids. I will be curious to see the options presented to the current board in March. We need to look critically at the options available, funds available and partner closely with the SPS Transportation Department to ensure all options are fully vetted and considered.