An 80-minute Beaufort County Board of Education committee discussion on options exploring ways to move elementary schools’ start time a bit later ended with a recommendation from Superintendent Jeff Moss to keep the schedule as it currently operates.
“It is unfortunate that the schedule works out so well for the vast majority of students but not for every family,” he said. “And I don’t think there is a schedule that would work for every family, but you do need to figure out what the balance is.”
School start times were changed districtwide this past school year to be about an hour later for middle and high school students and about 45 minutes earlier for elementary school students, a move that upset many parents of elementary school students.
In a poll conducted earlier this month, the majority of board members favored keeping the secondary schools’ start time around 8:45 a.m. and moving the start time for the elementary schools to be slightly later than 7:45 a.m.
It is still my hope, even if you find five minutes, that you find it before school starts.
Evva Anderson, Beaufort County Board of Education member
But bumping elementary schools’ start time up later while keeping secondary schools’ start time at 8:45 a.m. requires a bus turnaround time of less than 60 minutes — something district officials say is not feasible. Turnaround time refers to how quickly drivers can run the route and drop off a load of elementary school students before running another route for secondary school students.
Moss and his district staff met with gated communities to explore the possibility of reducing the number of pick-up stops within private communities, but Moss said parents within those communities were not in favor of the plan because of safety issues.
Further, Moss said that based on the feedback he has received, “15 minutes is not really going to do a whole lot” and “if the board elects to do something, it needs to be something more dramatic.”
One of the three elementary school mothers who attended the Student Services committee meeting Tuesday afternoon echoed that sentiment.
“Fifteen minutes isn’t going to make a difference,” Amanda Wheeler said. “Thirty (minutes) might.”
She and another mother, Vicki Wood, later walked out of the meeting in frustration before the discussion ended.
An idea to designate an elementary school as a choice program with a later start time was considered, but Moss said the program would need enough participation to ensure other schools weren’t overcrowded.
Another proposal, to buy more school buses, could allow elementary and secondary schools to start at the same time, essentially limiting any turnaround time. Board members asked how much the additional buses would cost the district.
Moss did not have an answer to that question, but pointed out that having more buses requires more drivers. This past spring, the district employed 140 drivers for 159 routes, resulting in some double-routing that could become more common if driver positions go unfilled.
The timing of breakfast, which factors into bus turnaround time, also was discussed.
Battery Creek High School will experiment this coming school year with a grab-and-go-style breakfast after first block instead of a sit-down breakfast before the bell rings, Moss said. May River High School is also considering the idea.
While many options were exhausted at the meeting, committee chairperson Evva Anderson told Moss, “It is still my hope, even if you find five minutes, that you find it before school starts.”
The full board could vote on the issue at its July 18 board meeting, which will be held 6 p.m. at Beaufort County Council Chambers.