Approximately 10 percent of Carmel Clay Schools students are no longer eligible to ride a bus to and from school this year because of a shortage of drivers.
On Aug. 3, the district alerted parents of 1,670 students that live approximately 1 mile or less from school of the pending change. The CCS school board of trustees made the change official Aug. 11 by unanimously voting to set a minimum distance for the no-bus zones and alter the school day start times to accommodate increased vehicle drop-offs and bus drivers with multiple routes.
“While we have worked hard to find solutions that allow all our students to arrive safely and in a timely manner, we simply cannot support all of our riders with our severely limited availability of drivers,” an email to affected parents states.
CCS Assistant Supt. for Business Affairs Roger McMichael said at the Aug. 11 meeting that approximately half of students living within a mile of their campus still have bus service, particularly if getting to school requires crossing a major roadway such as Keystone Parkway or U.S. 31.
CCS Director of Community Relations Emily Bauer said the district has roughly 90 general education bus drivers and 42 special education drivers. With the previous bus routes, the district needed a minimum of 134 general education drivers and 42 special education drivers. To be at ideal staffing levels, the district also would need approximately 10 substitute drivers.
Adjustments to school start times include beginning the elementary school day 10 minutes earlier at 7:40 a.m., beginning the middle school day 20 minutes earlier at 8:25 a.m. and starting the high school day 20 minutes later at 9:05 a.m. The length of the school day will remain the same for all students.
Elementary students may be dropped off as early as 7:15 a.m., which is 25 minutes before class begins. Students will be supervised at no cost until the school day begins. Previously, school buildings opened 10 minutes before class began.
CCS previously had no-bus zones until 2007, but they were discontinued primarily as a result of Carmel’s rapid growth. Before 2007, the school district provided buses for students in the many new subdivisions that didn’t have sidewalks or remained under construction for lengthy periods of time, regardless of their distance from schools.
“As a result, the walk areas were inconsistent across the district and the decision was made to eliminate the no-bus zones rather than to discontinue bus service to those areas not in compliance,” Bauer said.
Several other school districts in Indiana do not provide bus transportation to students who live near school, including Indianapolis Public Schools, the Metropolitan School District of Martinsville and Goshen Community Schools.
Bauer said it’s not yet clear if the no-bus zones will be permanent.
“We will have to continue to route for the number of drivers we have,” she said. “If we were ever to make up enough ground on the hiring front, the administration and school board would have to consider whether or not to change.”
To improve safety for students walking or biking to school, CCS has identified a designated crosswalk at each campus, and most will be staffed by a school employee.
CCS is working with the Carmel Police Dept. and City of Carmel to make the journey to school as safe as possible for students. The city plans to install up to nine mid-block crossing signals near schools and will consider adding more if necessary. CPD officers will be stationed near schools to deter speeding and promote safety.
City officials are encouraging students to form a “walking school bus” or “bicycle trains,” which includes groups of students walking or biking to school with one or more supervising adults.
Those who are unable to walk or bike to school are encouraged to carpool.