It's been almost four weeks since classes began in Columbia County, and some school buses are still running late.
Bus routes have been running behind, mostly because of a change in starting and ending times for elementary and high schools, creating problems for bus drivers trying to run afternoon routes for middle schools.
And although the school system has plenty of buses, more drivers are needed.
The problem areas are at Columbia and Harlem middle schools, Associate Superintendent Charles Nagle said.
At Columbia Middle School, some buses have arrived late in the mornings, shortly after first period, which begins at 8:40 a.m. Other buses have arrived within minutes of class, leaving students very little time to get to class, said Principal Donna Anderson.
"They're getting much better," Ms. Anderson said.
But she's still concerned about pupils missing instructional time -- even if only a few minutes. In the afternoons, Ms. Anderson said only four of the 20 buses that run routes for the school arrive as classes end at 3:45 p.m. Most arrive within the 30-minute regulation arrival time, but about four arrive after 4:15 p.m.
At Harlem Middle, buses have arrived just in time for school, Principal Geoff Schlichter said.
But those pupils who receive free breakfast through Title I are arriving late to their first period class -- sometimes by 20 minutes. The school has accommodated the lateness by having silent reading before instruction begins.
Transportation Route Supervisor Shirley Doolittle said her department is still reviewing route schedules to determine where changes can be made to address the tardiness problem.
"I don't want to solve one problem and create another one," she said.
Before the school system can offer relief to bus drivers working the routes, it will have to find more drivers. With more drivers, routes could be shortened, especially in rural areas.
Mrs. Doolittle said the school system has 130 drivers and normally has 25 substitute drivers. Currently, the school system has only two substitute drivers. Mechanics also have been filling in on bus routes.
"Driving a school bus is a part-time job," Mrs. Doolittle said. "So, it's not appealing to everyone."
Starting pay for bus drivers is $9.14 an hour. Drivers must have a commercial driver's license and pass a physical exam, criminal background check, drug screening and any required training, Mrs. Doolittle said. Drivers have access to benefits and can accrue sick leave and personal leave.
Mr. Nagle said the school system is screening applicants in order to hire more drivers.
REACHPeggy Ussery at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 110.