Staff Writer

VAN BUREN — Van Buren Schools is proposing a change in bus routes that would separate elementary school students from middle and high school students and give them separate school start times.

The school district will hold a community meeting about the proposal, and about next year’s school calendar, at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 6, in the auditorium.

This is something that “almost all school districts” consider as they grow, Superintendent Tim Myers said.

That’s partly to keep the size of the bus fleet under control. Among Hancock County school districts, only Findlay and Liberty-Benton have higher enrollment, and they have the sort of “dual” route systems Van Buren is proposing.

The proposal would also address the effects Van Buren is feeling from the nationwide bus driver shortage.

Currently, all of the district’s substitute drivers have regular routes due to full-time drivers being off for “extended medical situations” or other reasons, Myers said. Most days, the transportation supervisor, Jon Kelley, has to drive a bus, Myers said.

The new system would have four fewer routes than the current one, which would alleviate the driver shortage and give the district four “spare” buses, Myers said.

Van Buren “would not have to replace as many buses as quickly,” the district said in a document outlining the proposal. A new bus costs around $100,000, and the district would expect to replace four fewer buses over 10 years.

Additionally, dual routes would “separate our younger students from our older students,” Myers said, which would please parents who may worry about what younger kids “see and hear” on the bus.

Another benefit is that fewer parents would have to pick up and drop off their students at the same time when high school students who drive are entering or leaving the parking lot.

Under this proposal, elementary school students would start being picked up by buses at 6:40 a.m. Classes would start at 7:35 a.m.

Bus drivers would begin the middle/high school route immediately after dropping elementary students off, and older students would start classes at 8:35 a.m.

In the afternoon, elementary students would be dismissed at 2:25 p.m. Class for middle and high school students would end at 3:35 p.m.

Currently, the Van Buren school day runs from approximately 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., Myers said, with slight variations for different age groups.

In response to the district’s Facebook post introducing the new bus route idea, some parents expressed concern about elementary students getting home first. That’s a problem for families who rely on older siblings to watch younger ones after school.

The district noted in its proposal that child care, “particularly for elementary students and parents at the end of the school day” is one challenge with this plan.

Some parents already have that issue because they have no children old enough to babysit, Myers noted. The after-school programs their children attend could help families that would have new child care needs.

Van Buren’s other concerns are getting middle and high school student-athletes to away games on time, the effect on high school students with after-school jobs, and the possible need for more substitute drivers “to meet field trip and athletic needs,” according to the proposal document.

The idea is “simply a proposal,” Myers said. The school board will consider it after the Feb. 6 community meeting.

It’s possible that the district could wait a few years to make a change, “but because of our increasing enrollment, we believe that at some time in the near future we will need to go to the dual routes,” Myers said.

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