BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – With the current shortage of bus drivers impacting transportation issues in the Fort Madison School District, after-school programs such as the YMCA are looking at ways to get around the problems.
The district released information last month, that due to a shortage of bus drivers, the district would be forced to stick to state regulations on busing requirements.
Students in grades K-8 who live within two miles of their respective schools will no longer be picked up by school buses, and high school students within three miles of the school will have to find their own transportation.
Many area centers offering after-school programs fall within the two mile jurisdiction and therefore are no longer afforded transportation services by the district.
Fort Madison YMCA Executive Director Ryan Wilson said he reached out to the district about the situation and offered up a solution.
“The transportation issue came about three or four weeks ago and so as a Y, I was scrambling on what to do going forward,” Wilson said.
Wilson said he spoke with FMSCD Transportation Director Rich Hand about the issue and what could be possibly be done to help with the situation.
“The long story short is the Y is within that two mile radius of all three schools and per the change the Y cannot qualify for pickup or drop off of students,” Wilson said.
“A little bit of a panic set in because we’ve had 50-60 kids in the after school program and about 10 in the early morning program and now we don’t have transportation.”
Wilson said he then reached out to Kim Harmon, the district director of curriculum and student services, and asked if she would be interested in having the YMCA come to the schools and provide services.
“We had a meeting and since then she’s talked to colleagues in Burlington and I’ve talked to colleagues at the Y and I think we’re pretty close to making something happen,” Wilson said.
On the YMCA side of things Wilson said he needs to get information about how many families would want to take advantage of the at-school programs.
He said families interested in before or after-school or both should go online to the following link to provide the YMCA with information. The survey can be found by clicking here: https://fortmadisony.activityreg.com/selectactivity_t2.wcs?leaguesid=20
Preliminary plans include having a center at Lincoln and Fort Madison Middle School. Lincoln would house after-school for K-3rd grade, while the junior high would be 4th-6th grade.
“There’s a possibility that if numbers are too high, Richardson might have to be opened up as a possible third site,” he said. “That’s why were going through this questionnaire right now to figure out how many kids we have and how many centers we need.”
Wilson said the YMCA or the district can’t make that decision. He said the figures will be a part of of a licensing process through the Iowa Department of Human Services.
DHS wasn’t involved in the after-school programming agreement between the district and the YMCA previously, but because the YMCA is looking at going into the school for after-school programming, DHS certification is required.
Wilson said the process could take up to 8-10 weeks, but he said there may be a chance for a waiver as the certification process progresses, considering school starts in about 12 days.
Harmon said the middle school will be utilizing different rooms because of the demand of the gymnasiums during the school year. Lincoln’s after-school program would be in the gymnasium.
“As a district we’d thought about this for several years. All the pieces came together. The transportation thing is obviously a concern, but I think it allowed for the Y to step up,” Harmon said. “I didn’t really want to go to the Y and say, ‘Hey, wouldn’t you like to come into our facility’.”
She said the driver shortage is a state and even national problem and said she doesn’t feel it’s necessarily an issue of pay.
“It’s a challenge being on a bus in many cases. We’re a unique district in that we provide an associate on most of the buses so there is another adult. Most district’s don’t do that,” she said.
“So you are one adult on a bus with 50-60 kids and that’s asking a lot of one person. I don’t think it’s the money.”
Wilson said the survey will be open through noon on Aug. 20th for families to submit information. He said anyone without Internet access can call the YMCA at 372-2403 or stop by and submit information.