Public speaks out on proposed school start timesSuperior residents turned out in droves Monday night to speak to the Superior School Board about plans to introduce new start and release times for the city’s eight public schools. The Superior school district is proposing an earlier school day for most elementary schools, while Superior High School and Superior Middle School students would begin their days later.
By: Emily Kram, Superior Telegram
Superior residents turned out in droves Monday night to speak to the Superior School Board about plans to introduce new start and release times for the city’s eight public schools.
The Superior school district is proposing an earlier school day for most elementary schools, while Superior High School and Superior Middle School students would begin their days later. The change would allow the school district to streamline its bus routes and save an estimated $170,000.
“We’ve cut back to the bone,” said Janna Stevens, Superior superintendent. “I don’t know where else to go.”
The Superior school district faces a $700,000 budget shortfall for the 2012-13 school year, which comes on the heels of a $2.7 million cut absorbed this year.
The new school start times are not an ideal solution, Steven said, but the plan is preferable to cutting programs, eliminating positions or increasing class sizes.
“It’s a very difficult situation,” said Jack Amadio, business manager for the Superior school district. “When I look at those budgets, the last thing the Board instructs me to do is cut programs and lay off staff.”
With the savings from the revamped bus routes and additional savings from changes to employee health care insurance, the district will be able to avoid program cuts for the 2012-13 school year; but the reworked bus routes will likely lead to the layoff of three bus drivers.
Monday’s committee of the whole meeting lasted nearly three hours as a dozen people came forward to talk to the Superior School Board about the plan to change school start and dismissal times.
About 65 members of the public — mostly parents and school district employees — attended the meeting.
The plan presented at Monday’s meeting calls for most elementary schools to start about half an hour earlier and for SMS and SHS to begin later in the day. The exception at the elementary school level is Four Corners, which will see its starting time moved from 8:45 a.m. to 9:15 a.m.
Four Corners will have the latest release time of all district school at 3:45 p.m., followed by Superior High School at 3:30 p.m.
Northern Lights will see a biggest shift in its start times. The school day currently runs from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., but the new times proposed would have the day starting at 8:10 a.m. and ending at 2:40 p.m.
“We know that this change can be disruptive for families and staff,” Stevens said, but she added that the district is working to provide options for families.
Jess Brozic, who teaches third grade at Northern Lights Elementary School, said he and his fellow teachers have serious concerns about the new school times. One fear is that the earlier start time at Northern Lights will lead to increased truancy. In the last two months, students were tardy for class 367 times, Brozic said.
Another issue is student safety.
“We’re going to have a lot of kids walking the streets when it’s dark,” Brozic said.
About 90 percent of Northern Lights students walk to school, said Brozic, and many must cross busy streets. During the winter months, those students will be making their trek to school well before the sun rises.
“We’re not trying to derail the conversation,” Brozic said; the teachers just want to bring up legitimate concerns and ensure student safety.
Rep. Nick Milroy voiced similar feelings, saying it was “not a real wise decision” to have children walking to school or waiting at bus stops before daybreak. Milroy also asked the School Board to consider the impact of the earlier dismissal times on parents. For many, the proposed 2:40 p.m. dismissal time at Cooper, Great Lakes, Lake Superior and Northern Lights would mean an additional cost in child care.
Parents who attended Monday’s meeting wanted to know how early their children would have to get up to board the bus and how late they would return home.
Stevens said Lake Superior, with a 8:10 a.m. start time, would have its earliest pickup at 6:55 a.m.; Four Corners, with the latest release time, would have students home no later than 5 p.m.
Stevens also said that the length of time students spend on the bus would not increase with the new routes; many riders may even see a decrease due to increased efficiency.
The administration also outlined a pair of proposals for the 2012-13 school calendar on Monday. The major difference between the two options is the number of staff development days required for teachers.
In Proposal A, teachers would see three more staff development days added to the five they now work each school year. Teachers would be paid a $500 stipend to offset the additional work they’re being asked to do, but Stevens acknowledged that stipend was not equal to the per diem pay teachers receive.
To match teachers’ per diem rate for the three additional days would cost the district $500,000, Stevens said. Only $180,000 is available in the budget, which can either be divided among the teachers through the $500 stipend or used to hire substitutes to fill in for the teachers.
The money would be used to hire substitutes under Proposal B, which keeps the number of staff development days at five but requires teachers to be pulled from their classes for three additional days to complete curriculum work.
The start date for both proposals is Sept. 6, but Proposal A would set the last day of school at June 14, while Proposal B would set June 11 as the last day.
For Jori Walt, a music teacher at Great Lakes Elementary School, the later release date of Proposal A is a concern. She’s found that students struggle to maintain focus after Memorial Day weekend, and the later the school year runs, the less inclined they are to learn.
“Personally, I would want the Board to recommend calendar B,” Walt said.
The Superior School Board will take final action on the new school start and dismissal times as well as the 2012-13 calendar at its regular meeting Tuesday. The meeting begins at 7 p.m. in the cafeteria at Lake Superior Elementary School.