The Orange County School Board examined several plans for moving back start times for high schools in the area on Tuesday evening, while minimizing the transportation costs that would be involved.
The work session comes after several members of the school board including Chairman Bill Sublette and Superintendent Barbara Jenkins voiced concerns that high school students are not getting the rest needed with the current start times which range from 7:10 to 7:30 a.m..
Orange County currently operates on a 3 tier bus schedule between the High School, Middle School, and Elementary School start times, that uses 926 buses to complete it’s 13,000 daily stops. The primary model presented would push back the start time for classes to 7:50 and would require the purchase of 440 additional school buses, at a cost of $48.4 million dollars with an annual operating costs of $32.3 million dollars attached.
There were other models presented by school board officials, which involved including and excluding certain schools, while shifting start times and the number of buses that would need to be purchased to implement each specific model.
The most well received plan was the model presented by Sublette , who claimed would be a “cost-neutral” solution of not more than 20 million of expenses that would shift high school start times to 7:50 by implementing a uniformed length of the school day of 6 hours and 45 minutes across middle and elementary schools as well. The scheduling would also open up possible time for recess, which has been a hot issue among parents over the past year.
A few of the board members supported the longer, uniformed school day.
“The time is right to have this conversation. I too would support a model where we bargain and standardize the day. It could be a win-win” said board member Nancy Robbinson.
There were concerns that extending the day for elementary schools could result in pay issues for teachers and added day care costs for parents. Pam Gould said the solution didn’t focus on promoting student achievement and that parents should insist their children go to be earlier (which she admitted was a difficult feat), and more challenging classes should be scheduled later in the day. “There are other things we need to wrap around this issue. I want to expand this conversation.” said Gould.
The school board previously swapped Middle School and High School start times in 2008, but the change was unpopular with parents and the original times were restored a year later. The school board discussed polling a sample of high school parents and students for support of any changes to avoid any similar objections.
Any possible changes wouldn’t take place before the 2017 school year.
“What’s going to drive this decision is what’s in the best interest of our students” concluded Sublette.