A sea of red shirts, coats, and sweaters — worn by parents and residents in opposition to the district’s plan to implement later start times at Ridgefield High School next fall — greeted the Board of Education at its meeting Monday, Nov. 26.

Six people spoke, all of them against changing start times from the current system. The group, which had created an online petition last week that gained almost 500 signatures, packed the school board’s conference room in the Richard E. Venus Building to demand the board immediately halt the project.

“I strongly believe this school board should walk back the school start times initiative,” said Stephen Cole, a RHS substitute teacher and coach.

Cole, who is also a former member of the Planning and Zoning Commission, said that the school board “has been fixated on the cost associated by busing issues” for later start times. He argued that the plan “does not enhance and, in fact, may lessen academic achievement.”

Other speakers highlighted areas of concern including: lost classroom hours for student athletes, the negative effect on after-school programs, and the cost to businesses whose high school age workers would leave school later in the day.

The most common problem voiced though was the potential cost on Ridgefield taxpayers.

“There are 10 underground oil tanks that have failed testing … we have a critical need to replace hardware servers that risk disabling real-time security videos,” said Catherine Neligan of Old West Mountain Road.

Neligan has children at all three levels of Ridgefield’s school system — elementary, middle, and high school.

“While the school budget and capital expense budgets come from two separate pockets, those pockets belong to the same pair of pants — the taxpayers,” she said.  

Costs

Costs for later times have ranged from $434,000 to an estimated $1.8 million.

The board has not yet approved or voted on a final set of times. The most recent scenario the board said it would investigate would see the schools go back to a three-tier busing system. Five of the elementary schools would start at 8, the high school and one elementary school at 8:30, and both middle schools at 9.

Jennifer Mignano, an Evergreen Place resident, submitted the online petition calling for an end to the start times project.

“We believe that if adopted, the budgetary cost consequences will result in adverse educational outcomes for students, teachers, and the district,” Mignano said.

As of 12:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 27, the petition had gathered 496 signatures out of a goal of 1,000. It was started Friday, Nov. 23.

Board member Kathleen Holz, who was elected to be its secretary earlier in the meeting, said the board had received 15 emails in support of later start times and 66 against the initiative.

Future goals

While school start times were not on the meeting’s agenda, the subject did come up briefly during the board’s discussion on its future goals and priorities.

Board member Sharon D’Orso said the board should take a closer look at the district’s system of buses, noting that this year the schools had to add another bus back to the fleet — to the tune of about $90,000 — after it was cut for efficiency.

She said she wants the board to examine whether there are inequalities between the six elementary schools. Barlow Mountain, Farmingville, and Veterans Park Elementary schools currently start at 9:10 a.m., 35 minutes after Branchville, Ridgebury, and Scotland Elementary schools.

Board member Jim Keidel said repeatedly that the board’s first priority should be hiring a permanent superintendent.

“I think our main goal should be hiring that one person,” Keidel said. “Without that key person in place, we can’t take that next step.”