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Board discusses staggered school start times

Competing needs to attract more bus drivers while establishing a workable daily school schedule for parents landed squarely in front of the Stanly County School Board during a special meeting Wednesday night.

After public meetings with daycare workers and parents last week to present new staggered start time options, the board found no obvious plan that satisfied everyone.

“There is no 100 percent solution,” Superintendent Dr. Jeff James said.

The school system currently has 14 openings for bus drivers. A principle reason for moving to staggered start times is to make the job more attractive so bus drivers could become full-time workers and gain eligibility for benefits.

The board discussed raising bus driver pay to as much as $15.07 per hour to keep drivers who live in Stanly County from commuting to neighboring counties to drive school buses for higher wages and better benefits. It also discussed making it more attractive for teacher assistants to drive buses by providing additional salary instead of the current plan, which only provides them with comp time.

“We have a lot of (teacher assistants) who feel underappreciated because they have to come in late because they’ve ran bus routes, and they don’t get anything but some comp time, which they don’t want to use,” school board member Patty Crump said.

The key to the full-time employment of bus drivers is staggering start times of schools so drivers have time to run multiple routes each morning and afternoon. If the staggered start time proposal is approved, the school system could eliminate 20 buses and save $260,000 per year.

Scott Denton, a consultant hired to maximize the school system’s transportation efficiency, gave a summary of the information he presented to parents in two public meetings last week.  He presented two bell schedule options.

The first option, also presented to parents last week, would have Norwood, Badin, East Albemarle, Endy and Locust elementary schools start at 7:30 a.m. and end at 2:25 p.m. Aquadale, Richfield, Central, Millingport and Stanfield elementary schools would start at 9 a.m. and end at 3:55 p.m. Albemarle Middle School would start at 8:50 a.m. and end at 3:55 p.m.

The second option offered no change to any high school or middle school, including Albemarle Middle, the only middle school affected under the first option presented to the parents. Four elementary schools would run from 7:30 a.m. to 2:25 p.m., while six would run from 9 a.m. to 3:55 p.m.

Board member Anthony Graves wanted to tighten the school start times, mentioning the possibility that elementary schools could start at 7 a.m. and 8:15 a.m., while high schools and middle schools could start at 7:15 a.m.

The school system has to maintain a 90-minute window between the start times of the two sets of elementary schools, so schools that start at 7 a.m. would end at 1:55 p.m and schools that start at 8:15 a.m. would end at 3:25 p.m.

“Kids would get out earlier all across the board,” Graves said.

Many parents said they do not mind earlier start times, but they would not support starting school at 9 a.m.

“We cannot have it both ways,” Graves said. “We can’t get the kids out early so they can go to after-school activities and not have them start early.”

While he thinks the board can come up with a good solution, Graves said communication is critical.

“We have to communicate it out through the schools,” Graves said.  “They have to be kept in the loop.”

Board member Glenda Gibson wants teachers and staff from all the schools to be surveyed to gather opinions about the start times, along with any thoughts and concerns.

“Nobody knows better when a child learns at their best than the teacher,” she said. “I want to hear what our teachers have to say.”

About Chris Miller

Chris Miller has been with the SNAP since January 2019. He is a graduate of NC State and received his Master's in Journalism from the University of Maryland. He previously wrote for the Capital News Service in Annapolis, where many of his stories on immigration and culture were published in national papers via the AP wire.

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