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JCPS schools would move to three start times under new proposal

Students arrive at The Academy @ Shawnee for the first day of school in Jefferson County.
J. Tyler Franklin
Students arrive at The Academy @ Shawnee for the first day of school in Jefferson County.

In a plan unveiled Tuesday, Jefferson County Public Schools staff proposed reconsolidating this year’s glitchy nine-bell school schedule.

Jefferson County Public Schools would move to three school start times under a proposal district staff unveiled Tuesday.

Staff presented two scenarios during a virtual information session. Both plans would consolidate this year’s nine bell times into three: 7:30 a.m., 8:40 a.m. and 9:40 a.m. The only difference between the two scenarios are which schools get which start times.

“Scenario 1” aims to keep each school’s start time closer to its current schedule, while also addressing “pain points” certain schools were experiencing, such as traffic snarls when two buildings on the same road had the same start time. Scenario 1 would require 49 schools to change their start times, with the majority of changes for elementary schools. JCPS Executive Director of Transportation Marcus Dobbs said of the two scenarios, scenario 1 would cause families “less disruption.” Its drawbacks, according to staff, are that routes remain fairly long for drivers, less efficient and that students would be home later.

Under “scenario 2,” nearly twice as many schools, 87, would see their schedules change, and many schools would see their start times adjusted by an hour or more. While scenario 2 would be a more dramatic change, staff said the advantage is that it would be easier on drivers, who would have routes more contained to one geographical area. Scenario 2 also allows for more “mirroring.” Mirroring is a best practice and means students have the same bus for their morning and afternoon route. JCPS staff said mirroring also makes it easier for drivers to deal with disciplinary issues.

JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio described scenario 2 as the more “sustainable” option for the long term. Mirroring, reducing the length of drivers’ routes and consolidating start times were all recommendations made by Prismatic, the company that conducted an independent audit of the district’s flawed transportation overhaul.

That overhaul was designed by tech company AlphaRoute and used nine start times to try to address a bus driver shortage. The plan collapsed on the first day of school. JCPS staff have made some adjustments, but thousands of students are arriving late to school daily and missing instruction.

During Tuesday’s information session, members of the public could submit their questions to district officials by text or through an online form. One common question, according to JCPS Chief Communications Officer Carolyn Callahan, was why the district couldn’t move back to the two start times JCPS had before this year’s disastrous overhaul.

Pollio said moving back to two start times would put the district “underwater” by 100 drivers every day, causing massive delays and cancellations.

“I really do wish we could be at the two start times,” Pollio said. “Unfortunately, the transportation crisis has forced us to do something differently.”

Staff say the three proposed start times are designed so that one driver will be able to serve multiple schools, with enough time in between runs that students arrive on time. One failing of the AlphaRoute plan, according to the auditor, is that the nine start times are too close together and don’t provide enough cushion for drivers to make all their stops in between schools’ opening bells.

Asked why so many elementary schools would be moved to a 9:40 a.m. start time under both scenarios, Pollio said it was so that high schools and most middle school students could be on the earlier schedule.

“It is about extra curricular activities after school,” Pollio said, adding that high school students may have work, activities or even dual credit classes that have to align with college schedules.

“Elementary schools have always been the latest concluding time,” he said.

That explanation contrasted with arguments Pollio has been making for years to move older students to later start times to better align with adolescent sleep cycles.

JCPS Chief of Schools Robert Moore said schools will continue to open early and stay open late next year if parents need to drop students off early or pick them up late. Pollio also promised “robust” Child Enrichment Programs (CEP), which provides before- and after-school care for students. Though he could not yet say which schools would get CEP.

Staff provided no information about early childhood education start times, except to say that they expected the schedule to be similar to this year’s. Pollio promised more information for early childhood education employees and families “by the end of May.”

Staff said they plan to bring the proposals to the Jefferson County Board of Education for a vote at its next meeting on May 7.

The JCBE recently voted to cut transportation to nearly all 16,000 JCPS magnet and traditional school students. That was the recommendation from Pollio and staff, who described the cuts as the only solution to the district’s transportation woes.

During Tuesday’s information session, JCPS Chief Operations Officer Rob Fulk said even that plan “is not designed to have all our students to school on time.”

“There will still be delays,” he said.

Pollio said JCPS is planning to offer all magnet students’ families up to $10 in daily stipends for transportation costs, depending on household income.

Officials said families who can’t accommodate the new bell time schedules can transfer schools. The transfer period opens May 6. JCPS Chief of Human Resources Aimee Green-Webb said the district is “open” to working with employees who may need to transfer based on a start time change.

The district says it will continue to collect questions on this online form and provide answers on its website.

Jess Clark is LPMs Education and Learning Reporter. Email Jess at jclark@lpm.org.

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