Saved by the bell? Schools still weighing start times

The school board has hit the snooze button on a plan to start schools later.

The Board of Education acknowledged that work on the project had stalled at its most recent meeting on Sept. 11.

At least one resident who supports the change appeared to voice her frustration with the delay.

“You have a project manager who has been with the project from the beginning,” said Karen Sulzinsky, referring to Dr. Robert Miller, who also serves as the district technology director.

She noted that the district now has an interim superintendent whose job it is to push new initiatives forward.  

“It’s time to pick a scenario and let the administration get to work,” said Sulzinsky, a former school board member, and one of two people who spoke during the time for public comment at the start of the meeting.

Three or four?

The board has not taken any vote that would implement later start times at a later date. The plan is slated to begin at the start of the 2019-20 school year.

But the board has also not yet decided on a final set of bell times to push the start of school back, which were not included in the board’s vote last October.

While a traffic study the district conducted did suggest the schools would be able to cut one bus from the fleet this year, that saving didn’t pan out, explained board Secretary Margaret Stamatis. Stamatis heads the board’s strategic planning committee, which is overseeing the start times project.

Stamatis said the district is weighing the merits of keeping its current four-tier bus system, or going back to a three-tier system when it does switch to later start times.

“We’re exploring bringing the elementary schools to the same tier, and there’s more work being done on that,” said Stamatis.

Under the current four-tier busing system, there are three early-start elementary schools (Branchville, Ridgebury, and Scotland) that begin at 8:35 a.m., and three later-start elementary schools (Barlow Mountain, Farmingville, and Veterans Park) that begin at 9:10 a.m.

Bell times that kept the four-tier system, but swapped the elementary school start times with the high school’s early start, drew protest last year from some parents of elementary students. Those parents argued the new schedule would mean the district’s youngest children could be waiting for buses in the dark during the winter months, and would arrive home before their parents or older siblings — meaning many families would have to arrange for child care.

‘Adequate sleep’

Colleen Broderick, a parent who co-founded a town chapter of Start School Later, also spoke. She acknowledged there is “definitely work to do” on logistics — including after school activities, child-care providers, and planning around school sports programs. “Here’s what we also know: Ridgefield adolescents aren’t getting adequate sleep,” Broderick said.

Work on the project also hit a snag this past spring when the district appointed Miller to serve as acting superintendent through the end of the 2017-19 school year, essentially giving him three jobs to manage at once.

Miller said at the time that work on the project had slowed because the board had not yet selected a final set of times when the district’s nine schools would begin.

The board plans to have a full update on the project at a future meeting.