Changes in bus runs – and in turn the start and end times of the school day – are being mulled by RSU 34 school officials.

Last year, school officials surveyed the community about differentiating bus runs. While many respondents were in favor of the proposed changes some concerns and challenges were noted, which officials reviewed further. They now state that have addressed nearly all of those challenges, and a recommendation for the school board is expected by the board’s May 15 meeting.

Under the draft plan, school would start at 7:40 a.m. for grades K-5 and end at 2:15 p.m. with a first bus run. From 2:15-3:05 p.m., there would be time alloted for some interventions and homework help, band and other extra- or co-curricular offerings, and staff meetings. There then would be a second bus run.

For grades 6-12, meanwhile, there would be a second morning bus run. Classes would start at 8:30 a.m. and end at 3:05 p.m.; from 7:40 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. time would be set aside for some interventions, supported work space some extra- or co-curricular activities, and staff meetings. UTC students would still start their school day at the earlier time.

Officials say the changes would allow RSU 34 to address several long-needed opportunities for which transportation has been a barrier, such as supported work space for homework and other out-of-school learning, and the ability to access more extra- and co-curricular offerings  and academic interventions without disrupting other academic time. Some transportation funds also could be repurposed to increase student opportunities.

Shifting to a later start time for middle and high school students also would move them in a direction, supported by research, that indicates starting school too early is a critical contributor to chronic sleep deprivation among American adolescent. The changes also would enhance the  ability of RSU 34 to attract and retain Ed Techs and bus drivers by offering more hours to some of them.

In considering the proposal, school officials said it is important to recognize that over many years, formal and informal structures at the individual, family, child care, team, organizational, and community level have evolved around the current school schedules.  They added that such a disruptive change lshould only be undertaken if there is significant overall gain for students.

On the academic side, officials said there are several benefits: Widespread research shows high school students academically benefit from a later start; there would be an equitable opportunity to students for a time and place to do homework with support; and differentiating some staff schedules would provide some academic interventions without impacting students’ other classes and more support for students who need it and offer more flexibility in scheduling  activities.

On the extra-curricular side, there would be transportation available for all students for some extra-curricular activities, which would ease burdens on families and provides equity and enable shifting of  some extra-curricular activities out of the school day, protecting core academic time. It also would offer a before-school scheduling option for LMS and OTHS activities, helping busy kids to manage schedules and  providing before-school access to in-demand facilities for teams/coaches)

There are other miscellaneous benefits as well, with savings identified through the transportation bid and from targeted state funds being redeployed to services for students; providing a structured time at each grade span when partner services such as counselors/specialists, community organizations, and pre-service educators can offer activities to students, knowing they all have transportation; some potential to reduce traffic congestion on Stillwater Avenue and alleviate crowding on our most-full buses; and additional hours leading to more stability for our cadre of bus drivers

The teacher collective bargaining agreement would be unchanged.  That agreement discusses teacher schedules around the student day, differentiated schedules, and professional expectations for student help.  The newly available transportation at each school would remove a barrier in scheduling that help. Also, some educational technicians would be scheduled during the normal school day, while some will have a differentiated work schedule to address the new time slot, and some ed techs will be hired for additional hours to help provide the increased student opportunities. Support staff schedules would be determined by their administrator to best meet student and facility needs. Major changes in total hours for support staff are not anticipated.

More than 50 people attended last week’s school board meeting, with some expressing continued concern over issues that had been brought up in the past, such as scheduling, parents coordinating their days with those of their children, and whether a change in school hours will matter – if older children would simply stay up later if they didn’t have to get up as early.

Staff noted several steps that would have to be taken if bus runs and hours are to be changed, including continued coordination of the times early release for athletics may disrupt the school day; detailing an initial staffing plan; coordination with bus drivers of the routes where students may be; planning for the few United Technologies Center students who have a morning session; school day schedule adjustments; planning to minimize competition/overlap in the newly-opened time slot, and identifying what groups have scheduling priorities on which days; planning for increased staff coverage needs as more students participate in extra-curricular activities; and clearly communicating with parents in multiple ways, and anticipating initial confusion.

The revised draft, along with an overview of the gains and challenges to plan for, can be seen at  http://tinyurl.com/y2gr383m (slideshow) or http://tinyurl.com/y57jspk9 (document). There also is a form for input and feedback (http://tinyurl.com/y2sgmluq).  The public is urged to reach out to your school principal or district administrators with questions.

There will be another public comment period at the school board meeting on May 15.