Columbia School Board scheduled to vote on new transportation plan

Monday, March 11, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 7:23 p.m. CDT, Monday, March 11, 2013

COLUMBIA — The Columbia School Board is scheduled to vote Monday on a favored three-tier transportation plan for the 2013-2014 school year, according to the board's agenda.

The plan features a 9 a.m. start and 4:05 p.m. dismissal for high school students and two start times for elementary schools.

It is supported by Superintendent Chris Belcher, the contracted busing company First Student and the transportation committee that reviewed previous plans.

The plan 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 the middle schools  and 2:40 p.m. for the elementary schools.
  • The second tier for all other elementary schools to start at 8:20 a.m. and dismiss at 3:20 p.m.
  • The third tier to start the high schools at 9 a.m. and dismiss at 4:05 p.m.

At a Feb. 11 board meeting, the plan received positive feedback from a majority of the board, including board member Jonathan Sessions. Before the board discusses the plan on Monday, Sessions said there will be an opportunity for the public to give input. 

"I imagine there will be lots of people there to express their opinions one way or the other," he said. "I think we are prepared for it, and if people have concerns they feel are not being expressed, I urge them to come to the board meeting and speak."

District spokeswoman Michelle Baumstark said the administration spent last week surveying high school students to get their opinions on the 9 a.m. to 4:05 p.m. schedule. She said the students were asked questions about their interest in taking "zero hour" classes before the normal school day, or a "fifth block" period after 4:05 p.m.

The students' input is being analyzed and will factor into class, sports and activities scheduling, she said. 

"We're working toward looking to build the class schedules, which is a huge process that takes place over the summer months," Baumstark said.

There are still some concerns about the plan, mostly in regard to the seven elementary schools starting at 7:40 a.m., Sessions said. These elementary schools have the largest boundaries, and have to start earlier to give bus drivers enough time to make all the stops, he said.

"Changing the start time doesn’t improve the bus route, which is the concern some people have expressed," he said.

Sessions said the board must decide on the transportation plan this month, because the district has to begin coordinating bus routes and informing parents and students about the plan for next year.

Columbia Public Schools is going through several changes this year, with the opening of Battle High School in August, boundary shifts for nine schools in the district and the transportation plan changes.

"The No. 1 thing we recognize, what has to be done well, is that we have to effectively communicate to our community what is going on, how it is happening and how it impacts them," Sessions said. "And part of it is making sure we have enough time."

Baumstark said the board also will vote on whether to give kindergarten teachers two extra days for student assessment in preparation for the school year. That would mean kindergarteners would begin school Aug. 22, with assessments Aug. 20 and 21. 

"We really have to have a good idea of what level they are when they come to us," she said. 

The board meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Monday at 1818 W. Worley St. The meeting is open to the public. 

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.

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