Columbia School Board discusses school-day schedule changes

Thursday, September 20, 2012 | 7:50 p.m. CDT; updated 12:57 p.m. CST, Tuesday, February 12, 2013

COLUMBIA— Students and parents in Columbia Public Schools might see new start times for classes next year.

Transportation and its effect on school hours dominated a Columbia School Board work session Thursday morning.

The district's current busing contract with First Student will be up at the end of the 2013-2014 school year. This has prompted the district to look into options such as creating and operating its own bus system or contracting with a company other than First Student. 

Superintendent Chris Belcher raised the possibility of a three-tier bell schedule that would change the start and stop times for schools district-wide. 

A sample three-tier bell schedule could have the first tier of schools starting classes at 7:20 a.m. and ending at 2:20 p.m., the second tier starting at 8:20 a.m. and ending at 3:20 p.m., and the third starting at 9:10 a.m. and ending at 4:10 p.m. Elementary, middle and high schools would have have the option to go in any tier, in any number of combinations.

Currently, district schools start at four times, all within an hour of each other, but there are only two tiers of busing — secondary and elementary. 

Based on the discussion, one of the board's biggest concerns about the three-tier bell schedule is having high school students start so early, because most three-tier bell schedule models have all or most high schools in the first tier. 

"There's lots of research that shows high school students starting later improves test scores and reduces traffic accidents," board member Jonathan Sessions said. 

That brought up the possibility of having the elementary schools be in the first tier. Belcher pointed out it would eliminate the need for before-school supervision because parents could drop off their children at school on their way to work.

"We're an eight-to-five community," Belcher said. "With the university, we have a general work pattern."

More in-depth discussion of these options will take place at the next World Café from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Oct. 10 at Stoney Creek Inn. The board invites the public to bring forward concerns.

The World Café will separate the topics into two phases. Phase I will be a quick overview of how the three-tier bell schedule works in general and how it would save the district operating costs. Phase II will explore school-tier placement, appropriate starting times and general public opinion and concerns. 

Other items discussed at the board meeting:

  • The Columbia Walking School Bus, a program sponsored by the PedNet Coalition that encourages students to walk or bike to school, asked the board for support. Ian Thomas, executive director of the PedNet Coalition, suggested that Columbia Public Schools start to internalize the Columbia Walking School Bus program to ensure proper funding. Currently, the program has to piece together funding from grants and organizations. 
  • Monta Welch spoke on behalf of the Columbia Climate Change Coalition to make the board aware of the cons of bringing enhanced enterprise zones to Columbia. Welch's main concerns were that there isn't data to prove that EEZs will help Columbia, only anecdotal evidence. Welch's view is that companies will receive windfalls for business that they would run anyway, and EEZs are not needed to bring new companies to Columbia.
  • The board will start taking applications for citizens looking to fill the term of board member Paul Cushing, who resigned to take a job in Minnesota. Whoever is appointed will hold the seat until the next school board election is held in April 2013. Applications are due to Nick Boren, Columbia Board of Education secretary, by Oct. 12. Interested people should apply in person at 1818 W. Worley St. between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Applicants can expect interviews to be held on Oct. 30.

Missourian reporter Elizabeth Scheltens contributed to this report.

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.

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