School board: CHS is eight buses shy of academic gains
School board: CHS is eight buses shy of academic gains
CUMBERLAND - For School Committee member Linda Teel, giving up the "great bus service" to invest instead in "great academics" is an easy decision.
And given the dilemma facing the committee, she suggests many parents may feel the same way.
Teel's comments came during an emotional School Committee meeting last Thursday when members seemed to agree they can't afford the extra buses needed to allow for a later start to the high school day, even though research suggests the change would have an immediate and long-lasting impact on student achievement.
The shift, to accommodate teen biology, would keep the kids in bed an extra hour in the morning, summoning them to school at 8:15 a.m. instead of the difficult 7:15 a.m. start to their day.
It's been said CHS bells have been ringing earlier than anywhere else in the state since the Mendon Road reconstruction around 1986.
This committee is sold on the research that comes from school districts nationwide reporting nothing but positives when their high schoolers got a little extra shut-eye: Test scores and attendance went up, conflict with parents and even car accidents went down.
The stumbling block, of course, is money - $424,000 to cover the cost of eight new buses to handle runs to more than one school at the same time.
School Committee members last week were already acknowledging the Town Council won't be approving their full $1.7 million ask this year. Adding a half-million more seems fruitless, several were indicating.
But Teel persisted, "Getting them to school at a time when they're not ready to learn is not accomplishing anything. I can't accept that we can't figure out a solution."
School board member Craig Duffy has headed up the subcommittee studying the idea. He told the full board last Thursday, "Even though we know something is right, we can't do it."
Said Duffy, "This is an issue where it makes sense. There is no reason not to do it except for financial. People always say money can't fix everything. Money will absolutely fix this problem.
"We know from research we will see immediate changes on day one.
"(You) want to increase standardize test scores? I'll tell you how to do it. Change the start time. It's that simple. You will see immediate gains."
(Watch the entire meeting on a video by Michael Webber at bit.ly/17vHLoQ )
Town Council member Bill Murray, on hand for the meeting, told The Breeze later that he was impressed with the information cited. He planned to request a joint meeting of the Town Council and School Committee to discuss it further.
Parents have been largely absent from this school-start discussion that's happened during a couple of subcommittee meetings but reached the full agenda last Thursday.
It had been thought that adding three buses would be enough to jigger the town's four-tier bus schedule, although even the added $159,000 - $53,000 each for a year of busing - was going to be a stretch in a 2013-14 budget.
Supt. Philip Thornton spent some time running through various options.
The alternative using three buses is possible, he said, but it means changing the start times at both middle schools from 7:55 a.m. to 7:30 a.m.
And while the adolescents might cope better in the early morning hours, some would be standing at bus stops in the dark much of the year. The earlier dismissal would also mean longer unsupervised afternoons for some.
"You get the high school to 8:15, so the high school gets a great start," he said, "but the others take a hit."
Additionally, high schoolers within three miles, rather than two, would be required to walk. An estimated 268 students would be affected.
Said Thornton, "The fact is we are lean, folks. We are the lowest funded school district in Rhode Island and it shows right here.
"This is the best we can do and we tried every permutation."
He said nearby Lincoln, with about 2,000 fewer students, has roughly the same size bus fleet.
Chairwoman Lisa Beaulieu echoed other members' feelings when she said, "The answer is right in front of us but we can't afford to do it right and do it well."
She added, "This is where I get on my soapbox now. I want to know when we'll have the conversation on what it will take to have a great school system.
"We charged Dr. Thornton with fixing the high school, but the constraint we're always faced with is financial.
"The obstacle isn't that Durham (bus service) can't do it, but we can't afford to do it and do it well."
Vice Chairman Jeff Mutter was ready to give up last week.
He had supported spending $159,000 more for three buses but changed his mind when he learned eight buses were needed.
"The facts are the facts and they're not going to change next Thursday. The problems that we have, the hurdles we have to climb, are still going to be there."
But Teel listened to the debate and then told members, "I'm not ready to throw in towel."
"Do you want really good academics or a really good transportation system? You're demanding a level of service that we can no longer provide.
"If it's as simple as letting them sleep in longer, it's not a difficult decision to make," she said, noting it's not like adding teacher salaries and benefits to the budget.
She suggested that "families have to step up" and provide transportation.
"In other states you don't get driven to school on a school bus. We expect incredibly high level of service but we can't afford that high level. You can't have your cake and eat it too, so you have to figure out what you want to eat. Do you want to eat really good cake or do you want to eat really good transportation?
The committee is meeting at 7 p.m. tonight, May 2, in the cafeteria of the Transitional School on the high school campus.