By Cecilia Chan, GSN Managing Editor
Parents and students will soon need to adjust their schedules now that the start and end times at all Gilbert Public School campuses are changing for 2019-20.
The district’s governing board last week unanimously adopted a new bell schedule in an effort to save money and get the 10,000 students who take the bus to school and to home on time.
“I vote with some hesitancy on this one,” board President Reed Carr said. “I don’t know if there is a better solution. This is a tough decision because it does not meet the needs of every group. However we vote someone will be unhappy.”
The board’s action came after a consultant found the nine different bell times for the district’s 40 schools were not sustainable and resulted in 66 percent of all elementary school buses arriving late. Community input on two options was solicited through a poll where more than 10,000 households responded. Because of legislation involving instructional time for junior high students, a third option was offered to the board after the poll ended. That third option was adopted.
Two parents spoke on the issue at the meeting.
Tracie Nall said she spoke on behalf of parents of high school students and high schoolers in asking the board to push the start time for them to later.
She cited two sleep studies that recommended start time for high school students be no earlier than 8 a.m. and 8:30 a.m.
“Their biological clocks tell them to go to bed later and it doesn’t matter how tired they are or how much they down in bed and they try to fall asleep,” Nall said. “They fall to sleep when their biology determines them to and they wake up according to society.”
Having high school students start so early means they are losing sleep every day, which results in tardiness, lower grades and students that are tired all the time, Nall said.
She referenced a Seattle school district study that found later start times yield happier students, reduced tardiness and increased grades 4.5 percent across the board because students were alert in class to learn.
Justalyn Couser pitched a different proposal.
“I am the mother of an elementary, a junior high and two high school students as of next year,” she said. “When I look at my children, I feel like the older children should be going to school earlier and the younger children later because of their afternoon schedule. The older the kids get, the more busy their afternoons are, the more involved they are, the more homework they have.”
She asked the board to consider a schedule that has high schools start first, followed by junior high and then elementary.
She said putting high school start times first allows students to have afternoon jobs, do homework and be involved in sports or musical programs. And, having junior high start times follow would allow students time for afternoon extracurricular activities and homework.”
“Elementary school students don’t need as much afternoon time because their homework is minimal and their activities are way scaled back compared with teenage kids we are dealing with,” Couser said.
She said she recognized the issue was time-sensitive but asked the board to table the issue and look at an option that allows junior high students to have more of an afternoon.
Consultant Paul Novak explained in households where parents are already off to work early in the morning, the elementary start time sandwiched between high school and junior high allowed for older siblings to see the younger children off to school and greet them when they come home.
Carr said having nine different start times didn’t make sense and reducing it to three would save the district $1 million on top of the savings realized through the cost of replacing buses. The proposal would reduce the number of routes and buses needed.
Board members were mindful of a state Auditor General’s report in March that the district’s spending for transportation was “very high” when compared with the averages of its peers and the state.
Carr suggested tabling the item for more study, but members Lori Wood and Jill Humpherys disagreed.
Humpherys said she was concerned if they delayed action, it would not allow the district ample time to successfully execute a change.
“I realize a change in the start times will affect every one of us in the community,” Humpherys said, adding if the district didn’t get a handle on its transportation cost, the money comes out of the classrooms.
Wood said taking a vote now would allow parents and students more time to adjust to a new schedule.
Board member Charles Santa Cruz acknowledged the validity of sleep studies advocating later start times for older students but noted many of the parents in the survey disliked having elementary-age students go to bus stops early in the morning, sometimes in the dark during winter months.
“With what has been proposed, at least in my mind, I see equity among starting times at all the levels,” he said.
He said board was looking at whatever efficiencies it can implement at this juncture to get students to a learning facility as efficiently, effectively and safely as it can without stretching the district’s budget beyond its capacity.
“If we maintain what we currently have, we can’t afford it,” he said. “We need to be mindful of that. That is money that could be better utilized in other areas of the budget. It’s a very difficult decision but one that needs to be made.”
New bell schedule for 2019-20
High school start and end times: 7:30 a.m.- 2:20 p.m.
Elementary start and end times: 8:10 a.m.-2:55 p.m.
Junior high start and end times: 8:40 a.m.-3:30 p.m.