When a Franklin mother found out how early her two elementary-aged children would have to be up to get on the bus, she was shocked.
The bus that takes Dee Strait’s children to Needham Elementary School arrives at her neighborhood near County Road 300N at 6:14 a.m., meaning she’d have to be waking them up around 5:20 a.m. to have time to get ready for the day.
That’s way too early for her 8-year-old son David and her 9-year-old daughter Samantha, Strait said.
With a morning drop-off time for students of 7:20 a.m. at the elementary school, her kids would be spending an hour on the bus — time that could otherwise be spent getting more sleep, she said.
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With more than two dozen of the school district’s 120 bus routes taking longer than an hour, Franklin school officials are looking into ways the reduce the amount of time students spend on buses going to and from school. The school recently changed what age ranges of students are typically grouped together on buses and will be re-examining each of its routes in the next month to see what other improvements can be made, transportation director Doug Dickerson said.
Last year was the first time Strait had her children ride the bus to school, and the bus came through their neighborhood around 6:40 a.m., she said.
She still struggled with having her children out the door so early, but since the kids didn’t mind the chance to be on the bus with their friends, they decided to let them ride the bus that year, Strait said. Now, Strait is thankful that her husband’s work schedule allows him to drop their kids off at the elementary school, rather than get up for the early bus ride this year — an option that not all parents have.
Students shouldn’t have to be on a bus for more than a hour to get to school, Franklin superintendent David Clendening said.
The school is running 47 buses currently, but ideally would have 55, he said.
The challenge is finding enough drivers, since the school has had issues with hiring and keeping drivers, especially for part-time routes, Clendening said. While the district did raise the pay of bus drivers last year, Franklin still has to compete with five other school districts in the county, Clendening said.
The lack of drivers is a statewide challenge, Dickerson said.
Another challenge is the shape of the district, which stretches from the west to east boundaries of the county, Clendening said.
Some of the routes that reach out to the far edges of the district are going to be lengthy regardless of what the district does, he said.
Dickerson will be examining each route individually to see what changes need to be made, and if more routes should be added.
In previous years, routes could include students anywhere from kindergarten to high school seniors. Now, routes are typically between elementary students and those in middle and high school, which is intended to cut down on the number of times students have to transfer to another bus, Dickerson said.
Franklin also is working to get a count of how many students will be riding its buses this year.
Up to 3,900 students could be bused to school, but officials need time to determine which students actually are riding buses, which depends on how many parents choose to drive their kids and whether high school students end up driving themselves or riding with friends, he said. Last year, around 3,300 students rode Franklin school buses, Dickerson said.