School Start Times to Change
Much to some parents’ chagrin, high school students may get just what they want on school mornings next year — the chance to sleep later.
North Moore High School, Pinecrest High School and Union Pines High School will all begin at 9 a.m. and dismiss at 4 p.m. when the new school year starts Aug. 25. This past year, high schools began at 8:15 a.m. and dismissed at 3:15 p.m.
The change is a part of the Moore County school system’s consolidated bus plan, which will save the system an estimated $600,000 annually in transportation costs when it goes into effect next year. The plan eliminates 20 buses from the system’s fleet and allows its elementary schools and high schools to share buses by staggering school start times.
Bus drivers will begin their mornings by picking up and dropping off students at elementary schools and then doing routes again to pick up and drop off high school students. Elementary students will not be on buses at the same time as high school students.
Superintendent Susan Purser said Wednesday that the decision to stagger school start times was based on maximizing transportation efficiency, while also placing the biggest change on an age group that would be more adaptable.
“Research indicates that teenagers are better served when their day starts a little bit later,” she said.
Purser added that many high school students already drive, and the school system has always encouraged carpooling as a way of reducing the school system’s carbon footprint. She said the main concern in implementing the plan was that students would not have to get up earlier to ride a bus to school.
“We tried to focus on making sure students are not picked up earlier,” she said. “The rides won’t be longer, but they might be slightly adjusted.”
School system officials say high school students should anticipate a 45-minute shift in their school schedule. For example, if a bus previously dropped off a student at his or her home by 3:45 p.m., that student can expect to arrive home about 4:30 p.m.
Because elementary and high schools will share buses, the plan also alters times for the some of the county’s elementary schools as well.
Area I attendance district elementary schools — Cameron, Carthage, Sandhills Farm Life and Vass-Lakeview — will begin at 7:30 a.m. and dismiss at 2:30 p.m.
The two elementary schools in Area II, Highfalls and Westmoore, will begin at 7:45 a.m. and dismiss at 2:45 p.m. Previously, High Falls and Westmoore were operating on the system’s middle school schedule, which begins at 8 a.m. and dismisses at 3 p.m.
Area III elementary schools, which feed into Pinecrest, will begin at 7:45 a.m. and dismiss at 2:45 a.m.
Times for the county’s middle schools — Crain’s Creek, Elise, New Century, Southern and West Pine — will remain unchanged.
The consolidation plan also 0 features fewer bus stops to maximize the fuel efficiency of the vehicles.
Purser said more information on bus stops would be available throughout the summer, when information about student placement is recorded. Principals notified parents of the transportation change for schools last Thursday by a Connect Ed voice mail message.
Purser said the response from parents since the announcement has been that of understanding so far, given the onset of unprecedented budget cuts for the system.
“There are some questions that we’ve had,” she said. “But by and large, we’ve had a pretty supportive response — meaning that some people have indicated that it might not be their druthers, but they certainly understand when we share that we’re saving between $600,000 and $700,000 and what we’ve been able to do is hold on to more teaching positions as a result of that.”
Purser also said she understands how some parents may feel inconvenienced by the changes, but she added that with the various impacts of budget cuts, families have to ultimately evaluate their own situations.
“Our responsibility is looking out for the school resources and how we provide the service to our students,” Purser said. “When we look at individuals, they’ve got to make decisions for their own personal situation. They have to decide what works best for their family.”
Purser added that the school system’s current transportation plan is an anomaly compared with other districts, where sharing buses is a common practice.
Until the Board of Education approved the consolidation plan with its 2011-2012 budget in April, most of the schools have maintained their own buses and run separate routes.
However, Southern Pines Primary School and Southern Pines Elementary School already share buses, as do Aberdeen Primary and Aberdeen Elementary.
Deputy Superintendent Larry Upchurch said Tuesday that he is telling parents who are concerned about dropping off their children at different schools that they can take advantage of the bus system.
“We have a bus that will pick your child up in one of those settings,” he said.
Of the system’s 12,493 students, roughly 50 percent use the bus to travel to and from school every day, which cost the system roughly $3.5 million for the 2010-2011 year.
“We do provide that transportation for students to get to school,” Purser said. “There are about half of [students] not taking advantage of that option. They may need to look at that in a different way.”
‘Pretty Substantial’ Cuts
When the Board of Education approved its budget, the board expected the worst-case scenario of $12.1 million in state funding cuts.
Based on the N.C. General Assembly’s budget that is now in the hands of Gov. Beverly Perdue, the system is now preparing for an $8.2 million shortfall from the state.
Mike Griffin, chief finance officer for the school system, said it stands to lose a significant amount of transportation funding from the state and see costs shifted to local districts.
The system expects to see a 10 percent reduction in its transportation funding from the state, while also funding student transportation for an additional five days that have been added onto the school year in the state budget.
Griffin said the cost of transporting students for five additional days would cost the system a preliminary estimate of $70,000.
The state also plans to shift the cost of bus replacement to local school districts beginning in the 2012-2013 year, which will add an additional $1 million cost to the system’s budget.
“We’re going to help mitigate that because we are adjusting bus routes and adjusting school times,” Griffin said. “It’s going to adjust our fleet, but at some point in time, that will be an issue we have to deal with.”
Besides significant cuts to transportation, the system has also chosen to reduce programs, close a facility and cut positions.
“We’re talking about 8 percent of our budget being lost in one year,” Purser said. “That’s pretty substantial.”
The system stands to lose 120 positions, though Purser has said that roughly half will be eliminated through attrition.
Personnel began learning this week whether or not they would have a position next year.
“It’s our anticipation that they will pass this budget,” Purser said. “We’ve waited as long as we could wait. We owed it to our staff to let them know where we stand.”
The eliminated positions include four in the central office, six school-based administration (five assistant principals and one principal), 29.5 non-instructional support jobs (custodial and office staff, as well as bus drivers), 38 teaching and instructional support jobs (media center specialists and guidance counselors), as well as 42.5 teacher’s assistants.
Of those lost positions, 17 teaching positions and 9.5 teacher’s assistant positions were eliminated because of the expiration of $5.2 million in federal stimulus funding.
Purser acknowledges that the school system will face challenges with fewer resources this year.
“No one is immune to impact,” she said.
But she added that the system would work with families to help accommodate their needs.
“As we work through this there will be more details that will work out,” Purser said.
Contact Hannah Sharpe firstname.lastname@example.org.
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