COLUMBIA — At Columbia Public School's World Cafe event Wednesday night, parents, district employees and citizens gathered to brainstorm potential consequences to changing transportation and start times in the district.
The roughly 200 people in attendance split into 30 working groups to discuss two main questions: Is it worth it to switch from the current elementary and secondary transportation system, a two-tier bus system, to a three-tier bus system? And if the bus system changes, how would that affect school start times?
The district designed the meeting to get community feedback on potential changes to the transportation system and what kinds of unintended consequences those changes could have, district Superintendent Chris Belcher said.
In the current two-tier system, Hickman, Rock Bridge and Douglass high schools start school at 7:50 a.m. and all end around 3 p.m. Junior high schools start at 8 a.m. and end at 2:45 p.m. Middle schools start at 8 a.m. and end at 3 p.m. These schools are part of the first bus tier.
The second bus tier is all elementary schools, which start at 8:50 a.m. and end at 3:45 p.m.
With a three-tier system, schools could begin classes in one of three start times. For each start and end time schedule, there's a corresponding bus schedule. A potential bell system could look like this:
- Tier 1 — start classes at 7:20 a.m. and end classes at 2:20 p.m.
- Tier 2 — start at 8:20 a.m. and end at 3:20 p.m.
- Tier 3 — start at 9:10 a.m. and end at 4:10 p.m.
If the district switched to a three-tier bell schedule, it would save about $1.3 million on bus expenditures, according to district documents.
Start times in-depth
Much of the discussion surrounded whether elementary or high school students should start school in the earliest bell schedule.
Currently, high schools start at a the earliest time, and elementary schools start at the latest. Attendees said that if that were to switch under a new three-tier system, there could be a variety of consequences.
If elementary schools start at the earliest time:
- Parents can drop elementary students off on their way to work.
- Elementary students would be in after-school programs longer.
- Elementary students would be finished earlier. If parents rely on an older sibling to help with after-school care, the older student might not be home to supervise the younger sibling.
- Elementary students could wait in the dark for morning buses.
If high schools start at the latest time:
- Studies show later start times can improve attendance and academic performance.
- High school students would not have as much time at after-school jobs.
- After-school programs would be pushed late.
The district's transportation committee will use the community suggestions gathered at Wednesday's event to make a recommendation to the Columbia School Board. The board will consider the recommendation and will make a decision by February.
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