Any progress here? Bell times, traffic study are next steps in starting school later
Who would’ve thought sleeping in an extra hour would be this much work? With a little more than a year and a half left before Ridgefield High School students begin rolling into school at 8:30 — or 8:35, the exact times are still up in the air — school administrators say they’re hard at work to get the project off the ground.
Next up? Conducting a traffic study, which will help the district “filter down to a set of times that will work,” said project leader Dr. Robert Miller, the district’s director of technology.
Superintendent Karen Baldwin said that she believes the Board of Education will have enough data to make a decision on new bell times as early as late February, or possibly as late as April.
“We had originally planned on presenting our recommended school start times January or February,” said Miller. “We have intentionally slowed this recommendation down in order to present start times that will meet our needs.”
Miller said the traffic study will help the district get a sense of any inefficiencies in the current busing system.
“We need to fully understand the specific impact of specific times at specific locations on specific roads,” he said.
He’s dividing some of the work up among four work groups, which will look at the project’s impact on students’ after-school jobs, after-school and religious activities, programs with the Boys & Girls Club, and youth athletics.
One factor that hasn’t been discussed at length by the board will be the impact on school sports. The issue was raised briefly at the board’s Jan. 29 budget meeting, shortly before the meeting ended.
Athletics Director Dane Street said there were “a lot of questions” around the impact later start times would have on the athletics department.
“From pay-to-participate to rental revenues — just about every piece of my budget becomes a big question mark,” Street said, “because we have no way to project whether a kid who plays this year, and next year in 2018-19, is going to play the following year.”
Street raised the issue of start times after board Vice Chairman Doug Silver suggested that the schools should look at phasing out the district’s pay-to-participate requirement for sports, which charges student athletes dues in order to play on a team.
“I don’t think we should be in the business of revenue,” Silver said earlier in the meeting. “I don’t think we’re good at it.”
He added that while there were “a hundred reasons why sports benefit our education system … we treat it like we charge them for the books in their math class.”
Street responded that the revenue collection was not ideal.
“It gives our department a little bit of a tax collector feel when we’re chasing these fees,” he said. “It’s certainly something I wouldn’t mind doing without.”
The challenge of a later start time could also push the board to look at “a more consistent model,” Street said, “so that you are not faced with some unforeseen challenges due to a decline in participation, or a decline in rental revenue, or any of those things. Which I suspect will be very real things with the late school start.”
Silver said he’d like to see the separate costs of the later start time project carved out, and highlighted in a future budget overview.
“We’d like to see that carved out,” he said.
“As an initiative, I think that’s one that probably cuts across a few different areas. We’d talked about a portion of Dr. Miller’s time, and a portion of this, and a portion of this in our estimates — and to see that broken out, I think, would be healthy.”
Four years ago, Silver noted, what he called “reckless cuts” by the Board of Education at the time had crippled the schools’ ability to implement programs — later start times among them.
Baldwin said the proposed budget she presented to the board on Jan. 22 included funding for the start times change.
During the public comment period earlier in the meeting, community member Gigi Christel questioned the transparency of the project.
“I’m a little concerned since you all approved implementation,” she said, “and we have yet to see a plan.”
“Communication,” she added, “goes a long way toward calming anxieties.”