Columbia School Board continues transportation discussions

Monday, February 11, 2013 | 10:18 p.m. CST; updated 12:53 p.m. CST, Tuesday, February 12, 2013

COLUMBIA — A transportation plan that included a school start time proposal met with some opposition at a school board meeting Monday.

The plan, preferred by Columbia Public Schools Superintendent Chris Belcher, features a high school start time of 9 a.m.

Under Belcher’s plan, also recommended by the contracted busing company First Student, start times would stagger. It calls for:

  • The first tier to have two start times: 7:30 a.m. for middle schools and 7:40 a.m. for elementary schools (Lee, Midway Heights, New Haven, Ridgeway, Benton, Rock Bridge and Two Mile Prairie). Dismissal would be 2:35 p.m. for middle, 2:40 p.m. for elementary.
  • The second tier to start at 8:20 a.m. and dismiss at 3:20 p.m.
  • The third tier to start at 9 a.m. and dismiss at 4:05 p.m.

Concerns about the plan came from community member Debbie Rodman and board member Christine King.

Rodman said she does not support a plan that puts any student in a classroom earlier than the current district start times. She said high school students are able to vocalize their protest against earlier start times in a way that middle and elementary students cannot.

“I do want to encourage the board and administration to reconsider any solution that would start school times any earlier than the current 7:50 a.m. start for any student,” Rodman said. “We need to look one more time to be sure this is the best choice for education.”

Rodman said the district should consider child care costs for elementary students as well, particularly those in the first tier. These students would finish school at 2:40 p.m., more than an hour earlier than the current dismissal time.

“I don’t think busing costs need to be the deciding factor,” she said. “To assume these families can muster the resources for an hour and a half more of child care is unlikely.”

While unanimous community approval of one transportation plan is improbable, this proposal represents the best financial option for the district, Belcher said.

“It’s a give and take, but this is a true definition of a rock and a hard place,” he said.  “It is not perfect, and there are concerns, but there are a lot less concerns than there are on the other models.”

Jilly Dos Santos, founder of Students' Say, a forum for high school students to voice opinions about districtwide decisions, spoke in support of Belcher’s plan. She said it gives high school students the option to take classes in a "zero hour," before the traditional school day begins at 9 a.m. This would allow them the option to leave earlier in the afternoon for work or alleviate the time crunch caused by after-school activities.

“It allows students to learn in a way that works best for them,” she said. “Compromises must be made to make sure the best decision is made for everyone.”

The board is planning on surveying high school students to see if there is interest in "zero hour" classes, but the desire to take before-school classes might mean students just want to start the day earlier, board member Christine King said.

“If we survey students and all these students are saying, ‘Yeah, I want to take a 'zero hour' course,’ then, OK, why are we starting at 9?” she said.

Board member James Whitt supported Belcher's plan because it could move the district away from the traditional high school structure, in which all students are required to attend the same hours and the same number of classes.

“Out of this may come a new model that could be very, very innovative and very, very successful,” he said.

Belcher said the district would not discriminate against students without their own cars when offering flexible schedule options. The district should consider partnering with city transportation to give more students the same options, he said. 

“We’ve started to have a conversation with the city where we have a drop-off every 15 minutes at Rock Bridge, Hickman and Battle,” he said. “We are closely looking at that.”

The board will vote on Belcher's transportation proposal, along with other items, at its March 11 meeting.

The board also:

  • Recommended a name change for Jefferson, Oakland and West junior highs to become Jefferson, Oakland and West middle schools. The change will be voted on at the March meeting and would go into effect at the end of the academic semester.
  • Approved a contract with Advancement Via Individual Determination, a college readiness system for elementary through higher education. The board voted to increase the budget for AVID professional development training in June to prepare for the 2013-14 school year.

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.

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John Schultz February 12, 2013 | 2:22 p.m.

As a parent of a middle schooler, the 7:30 start time really really stinks. I'm curious if the estimated savings are really going to come through and how the earlier start times will affect learning?

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