Proposed proximity plan could improve middle school transportation amid drivers shortage

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It’s no secret the Lee County School District is still on the hunt for bus drivers, now they’re adding middle schools to their proximity plan to help.

A spokesman for the district said they’re still short 70 drivers for the 2023-2024 school year.

At a board workshop Wednesday afternoon, Superintendent Christopher Bernier said the district is looking at ways to address the shortage.

“We transport more than 60,000 kids every single day, there’s a lot of miles and a lot of buses, and we are still down bus drivers, and we are still looking for temporary solutions like we looked for with university tutors to see whether we can find members to drive our school buses,” Bernier said.

That’s why the Lee County School Board drafted a middle school proximity map with nine zones that will hopefully improve transportation times for drivers and students.

The school district will restructure the driving routes with this proximity plan in Lee County middle schools by shrinking them, which will help solve the chronic bus driver shortage.

Zoning changes were enacted last year for elementary school students, which was met with positive feedback. Now, the school district intends to change zones for middle schoolers.

Adam Molloy, the Director of Planning, Growth, and Capacity for the Lee County School District said there have been some benefits to the plan but also some things that still need to be worked on.

“We are seeing some improvements as it relates to our transportation efficiency. by some measures, we are seeing some challenges and opportunities as it relates to parent pickup and drop off lines,” Molloy said.

One point of discussion at the meeting centered around the impact of these zoning changes on art programs in the district, school board members wanted to make sure parents didn’t feel like their child was at a disadvantage based on the schools in their zone.

“We have to make sure that we have those programs that we offer at ALL the schools so people don’t believe I have to send my child to a school that is not as great,” Jordan said.

Molloy said district staff is working to address that, along with how the four K-8 schools in the district will be impacted.

“We have seven application programs at the middle school level, right? We reserved seats for those application, a six of those are arts, arts audition programs, right? We didn’t want to take those away. We didn’t want to do anything to restrict those. In fact, we wanted to make them more accessible,” Molloy said. “We’re working with our team to tighten up the language and the plan for how that actually operates for our kids that want to audition or apply.”

The proposed proximity plan will be discussed more in-depth at another board workshop scheduled for Nov. 1 at 6 p.m.

The district also has three town halls scheduled to get feedback from parents and community members.

Here are the locations and times for those meetings.

  • October 26, 2023
  • Town hall – Bonita Springs Middle, 5:30 to 7:00 p.m. (10141 Terry St., Bonita Springs, FL 34135)
  • October 30, 2023
  • Town hall – Challenger Middle, 5:30 to 7:00 p.m. (624 Trafalgar Parkway, Cape Coral, FL 33991)
  • November 1, 2023
  • Town hall – Oak Hammock Middle, 5:30 to 7:00 p.m. (5321 Tice St., Fort Myers, FL 33905)

The board will have a final vote on the plan at their action meeting scheduled for Nov. 21 at 6 p.m.

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