School start times: Consultant hired to fix bus routes

A bus carrying four kids is unacceptable, and that’s why the school district has hired a consultant to make its bus routes more efficient for the 2017-18 year.

“I’ve been standing out there with my dog, and I can tell you that there are some buses — full-sized buses — going out with four kids on it,” said Board of Education member Doug Silver at a Jan. 26 meeting where the topic of later school start times drew in a crowd of almost 100 people.

Silver, who lives close to the high school, said he has observed buses taking students home that are empty.

“That’s the real problem,” he told the board.

The firm that was hired — Montana-based Education Logistics — will cost the district $5,000 up front, and potentially $10,000 for future transportation studies.

The hope is that money spent now will produce long-term savings.

“It is possible, as we ask them to look at ridership, capacity, and routing, that there could be savings identified,” said Superintendent Karen Baldwin.

And those savings could be applied to reconfiguring the district’s current four-tier bus system, enabling later start times at Ridgefield High School.

Eight parents spoke in favor of starting the high school later — without pushing back the start times of the district’s six elementary schools.

“It’s counterintuitive to have them going to school this late,” said Reggie Libhart, whose wife had started a petition against later elementary school start times Jan. 24 that has collected more than 200 signatures.

Board member Sharon D’Orso supported a switch to a three-tier bus system but said the cost required the board to find savings in the transportation budget.

“This is something much bigger than what we can do in-house,” she said.

“In order to move to that three-tier system, we really need to look at the capacity, some of those tiers have capacity for 500 students on buses alone, and the schools have 290 kids.”

Elementary start times

Over the last two months, the board has been looking at four options to start schools later.

The one that caused the most alarm, among elementary school parents, recommended keeping the current four-tier system and pushing back the start time for three elementary schools from 9:15 to 10:15.

Alex Harris asked the board to ease the parents’ minds.

“Take the lead, deliver a clear public stance on school start times,” he said.

At the Jan. 26 meeting, Chairwoman Fran Walton said that option had been removed from consideration.

Baldwin said the consultants will look at the best options to push back high school start times without significantly affecting other tiers.

If a 10:15 a.m. start time for elementary schools comes up again, Baldwin said, “we’ll tell them we’re not presenting that” to the public.