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LEE COUNTY | School district tries to combat bus delay as some remain an hour late

Lee County school bus
Posted at 4:22 PM, Sep 24, 2023

LEE COUNTY, Fla. — Lee County parents tell Fox 4 they continue to have issues with school bus delays.

Two months in — the Lee County School District says things are improving.

However, the district admits a county-wide change is causing some bottlenecks in the bus system.

One parent feeling the impacts of the bus issue is Brittany Compagnone and her daughter, Mackenzie.

"In the morning time it’s usually not here until 7:40, 7:47," she said. "So we sit out here, we blow bubbles, chase crickets, talk."

The bus is scheduled to get there at 6:53 a.m. They watch as several buses go by daily before Mackenzie's gets to her Lehigh Acres bus stop.

Compagnone checks the "where's my bus" app, giving her a real-time look at where the bus is.

"It was supposed to be here at 6:53 and it’s 7:39 so far," she said. "Almost an hour. It’s frustrating."

It's a frustration Fox 4 brought to the school district.

"We would need to highlight that route to transportation to look at for their reviews," said Rob Spicker, a district spokesperson.

Through some digging, Spicker said Mackenzie's bus is covering for Lehigh Senior High School, causing the delays. The reason, he says, is bus driver shortages.

"So we started the year with 548 drivers, and today we have 530," Spicker said.

The district needs 600 full-time drivers for 547 routes. Spicker says with 10% calling out, about 50 to 60 drivers, there are 70 routes that need coverage.

"But if your child was on one of those buses without a full-time driver, you are experiencing the pain of our bussing system," Spicker explained.

It's a pain they're working to address, which they meet weekly about. One way they're working to solve the issue: is the proximity plan.

"We knew it would provide improvements, but we also knew it wasn’t going to be the panacea to solving the issue," Spicker said.

He says those changes did consolidate routes, which cut back on delays.

"We’ve made improvements since the beginning of school. We were 85% on time in the morning. We moved it up to 90%," Spicker said. "We’re at 73% in the afternoon. We were at 70% in the fourth week of school last year."

However, he says with that, they're seeing a bottleneck with elementary schools.

"We’ve run into a challenge with some of those schools that have more students and longer pick-up lines," Spicker said. "They have more parents taking their students to and from school, so the pickup lines, particularly in the afternoon, are getting longer."

With more people, Spicker says buses are getting trapped in the lines.

To solve this, they're looking at other ways to get the buses around it by looking at the school design to see if they can allow them to come in another way.

They're also looking to see if there are nearby roads the buses can take to get around the pick-up lines.

Spicker says filling every bus driver position would solve all the problems. He says many are concerned about the cost of living and the salaries the district is able to offer.

The pay is $17.50 an hour currently, and they're in negotiations to raise it.

Spicker says they're going to continue to look for ways to combat the issue for your students.

"We understand. We are frustrated by it as well. It is not the system we want for your students," Spicker said. "We want kids to get there on time."