ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — Rockford Public School’s superintendent spoke today on the decision to shift school schedules in order for RPS bus drivers to cover all routes.

“The bus times themselves will change very little. The school start time will change and certainly, some students and families will be impacted by that,” said Superintendent, Dr. Ehren Jarrett.

Administrators found out they wouldn’t have as many drivers as they originally planned just weeks before the start of school.

“We just feel awful about doing that so late to families. But again, when faced with giving away 20 extra instructional days to students who are so vulnerable, we made that very, very difficult choice. And ultimately we think that was what was the right thing to do under these circumstances,” Jarrett said.

Due to the pandemic, RPS was given federal grants to add 35 minutes to each school day for most of its elementary schools for the upcoming school year. To help with bus routes the Rockford Public School board signed an estimated 5.6 million dollar contract in late April of 2023 with First Student. The outside bus driver contractor claimed they would provide 65 drivers over the course of the 2023 and 2024 school year. However, with a major bus driver shortage they are only able to provide 12 drivers to start the year.

“You know, inevitably our drivers get sick or there’s family issues that come up. So to have that opportunity to still have four students at the table with us, with those 12 support drivers, it’s going to be huge for us. So we aren’t missing a route,” said Michael Phillips the Operating Officer at RPS 205.

First Student says that they should be able to add five drivers each month during the year, however, the schedule times won’t change. The decision was to either go back to the regular length of a school day or change the schedules to make the extra learning work.
the federal grant to fund the extended learning will be enough for just one year.

“We think time is the ultimate variable and increasing student achievement. We believe our children will benefit from a longer academic day with our teachers and if we see those results, we will look forward to finding ways to fund that. But the likelihood of being able to fund that across the district is fairly low,” said Jarrett.

Rockford Public Schools posted the updated class times on their Facebook page.

The school year for RPS begins next Thursday, August 31.