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As driver shortage eases, D161’s transportation woes lessen 

Flossmoor School District 161’s fall transportation woes may not be as dire as originally anticipated.

In June, Associate Superintendent Fran LaBella cautioned the board of education that transportation may end up being a “nightmare” because of a shortage of bus drivers poised to disrupt a return to normal routes. While transportation provider Kickert is still struggling to find enough drivers to handle all of the normal routes, according to LaBella, administrators now expect to be only four or five routes short of what they usually have.

“Good news, sort of,” LaBella told the board members during a meeting Monday, July 19. “That’s a whole lot better than I thought we were going to be.”

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Despite the earlier concerns that buses for Parker Junior High School, in particular, may have to run in waves, LaBella said she now thinks the district can avoid that. Administrators are still looking at the possibility of expanding the walking zone to the east of Western Avenue Elementary School and the walk zone for Parker south of Flossmoor Road to make things work. They also may lengthen some routes.

Beyond that, LaBella said the idea is to draw up routes similar to what the district has done in the past. For any routes that have too many children, LaBella will send a survey to the parents of those students to find out how many actually plan to use the buses. If there are still too many on a route, then she will experiment with rerouting. The plan is to start playing around with the formula this week, she said.

“We’re feeling good about it,” LaBella said.

Because of shortages, though, Kickert has told District 161 that it is prioritizing the school day. Schools may not have access to Kickert for after-school activities and athletics until 3:45 p.m.

“That may be a problem for our athletes, but we won’t be the only school in that situation,” LaBella said.

Some things are “still playing out,” but changes will be made as the situation unfolds, LaBella said. She expects to have a “strong handle” on routes by the week of July 26, and more information should be sent to parents the week of Aug. 2.

District schedules back-to-school events

District 161 announced two major events surrounding its back-to-school efforts for the 2021-2022 school year.

Chalk the Walk is to return at 4 p.m. Aug. 11, with the district encouraging families to write positive, welcoming notes to the children before they return to school the next day, Aug. 12. The district will provide chalk, but parents are also welcome to bring their own.

A back-to-school party to be held at Flossmoor Park in conjunction with the Village of Flossmoor is slated for Aug. 13, starting around 6 p.m., according to Superintendent Dana Smith. The village is expected to show “Raya and the Last Dragon” at dusk. He added that the event will include a raffle for shirts and other prizes, as well as Zarlengo’s Italian Ice for attendees.

“It’s going to be great,” Smith said.

District 161 also plans to be involved with Flossmoor’s Hidden Gem Half-Marathon, with schools serving as water stations. The district’s cross country runners are to join the run for the last mile and provide encouragement to participants. Smith said marketing materials for District 161 will be included in swag bags, as well.

“That’s a great opportunity to showcase our schools,” Smith said of the event. “We want to make sure that our schools are fairly represented.”

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