ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. - Many families walked their kids to Valley Ridge Academy Monday.
“My kindergartener was very excited, a little bit nervous and the third grader was not ready to go,” Valerie Fazzingo said.
Other students caught the bus to Nease High School.
It was a quicker ride into the bus loop thanks to a new turn lane on Ray Road, completed this summer.
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“I could see with the buses and the flow, it was a lot quicker than it was and so it’s going to help a lot in terms of getting the buses into the loop on time,” Al Pantano said.
The director of transportation told Action News Jax pickup and dropoff went smooth for bus drivers Monday morning, but the district could use more of them.
“Right now, I could easily add another 20, 25 personnel. I’m where I need to be to start school but I want to get it up,” he said.
Pantano said some buses are at capacity which can mean children fill all 84 seats. More drivers would help him get that number down.
“Give the children some room to spread out. That affects behavior, that affects the job of the operator in terms of dealing with the things that happen when the bus is full,” Pantano said.
The district has used signing and recruitment bonuses to attract drivers. Signs are on the back of buses letting people know they are still hiring.
“We’re always looking at pay and compensation to see what we can do to remain competitive because we're competing with the Amazons, the Walmarts, all them,” Pantano said.
The district is also working to add air conditioner to every bus in its fleet. Pantano said they’re about halfway done.
Twenty brand new buses with AC hit the streets for the first time Monday. He said nearly all the buses should be equipped by the end of the year.
“When you’re sitting in that seat without air conditioning it can be brutal, so we did it for both reasons, for our children as well as our people,” he said.
While parents and students are celebrating the first day back, he’s working to make kids’ journey to school safer.
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