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News Story
Updated: 08/10/2017 08:30:04AM

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MARC VALERO/STAFF

Mechanic Rick Mortensen checks the oil level on a school bus.


MARC VALERO/STAFF

From left: School Board of Highlands County Transportation mechanics Gary Prentice and Joe Powers and Transportation Director David Solomon with a lineup of buses Wednesday that will be on the road today for the first day of school.

MARC VALERO/STAFF

The extended stop arm, along with red flashing lights, alerts motorists that a school bus has stopped to load or unload students.

MARC VALERO/STAFF

The School Board of Highlands County will operate 93 buses routes when school starts today.

By MARC VALERO

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SEBRING — The first part of the school day for many students is the ride on a school bus and those buses and drivers are ready to run 93 routes starting today — the first day of school for the School Board of Highlands County.

Transportation Director David Solomon said, all the drivers have done their “dry runs” on their routes to prepare for the first day.

Transportation Manager Carlene Varnes said the first buses will head out to their routes around 5:30 a.m. The outlying areas include Lorida, Kissimmee River Shores, Venus and near the Avon Park Correctional Institute.

A dispatcher is on duty each school day from 5:30 to 7:30 a.m. and parents can call 863-471-5764 if they have any transportation questions or concerns.

When a bus is 10 minutes late, parents call in to find out why it is delayed, Varnes said. “We take down their number and when we get that bus going again, we call those numbers,” to inform the parents when the bus will be at their child’s stop.

Solomon noted that the bus routes change from time to time when another stop has to be added due to a safety concern, for example he said. But, at the start of the school year they are frozen for a couple of weeks to avoid confusion.

Varnes said the routes are on the school district’s website. The routes are listed under “Departments” then “Transportation” or under “Parents” at highlands.k12.fl.us.

“If we did a great large change after posting them it is not fair to the parents,” she said. Parents already know the times for the stops and will be waiting on the buses.

The district continues to need bus drivers, Solomon stressed. The Transportation Department held its second job fair of the summer at Lakeshore Mall on Saturday to recruit drivers.

The school bus driver shortage is nationwide, Varnes noted.

Substitute drivers will be covering the routes that don’t have full-time drivers, Solomon said. He could use at least 15 drivers. Three drivers quit just last week.

The major concern about motorists is districted drivers and those who are using their cellphones or Smartphones, Solomon said.

“We don’t allow our drivers to use their cellphones or electronic devices on the buses,” he said.

Solomon noted that when the “stop arm” is extended from the bus, motorists traveling in both directions must stop for students boarding or leaving the bus. The only exception is on divided highways where motorists driving in the opposite direction of the bus should proceed with caution.

“People need to be patient and start out earlier when traveling to their location,” he advised.


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