District officials said Monday night that they’ve figured out a way to push back the start time for elementary school kids under a planned new schedule from 7:50 a.m. to 8 a.m.
By adding two smaller-size “type 2” buses to its fleet, the district can “shave off” run time for buses that currently must travel out-of-town in order to find a place to turn around before picking up more kids and getting them to school, according to Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bryan Luizzi.
At a cost of $63,000 apiece, the two smaller buses (seating about 16 to 20) would be operated by drivers already employed by New Canaan Public Schools and “they would shave off the couple of longest runs and help us move our time tighter and get to that 8 o’clock,” Luizzi told members of the Board of Education during their regular meeting.
“We can get to 8 o’clock with our first tier, the elementary kids,” he said during the meeting, held in the Wagner Room at New Canaan High School.
“It’s 8:35 [a.m.] for our second and 9:20 [a.m.] for our third, but we will keep working on the other two,” he said.
“What we are doing is what we said, we are going to continue to dive into it, to look at it, to refine the runs,” Luizzi said. “There’s the physics of it, and there’s also human behavior, and we are going to continue working through. We can’t promise anything we can’t deliver, but we can promise to keep working on it. That’s what we’ve done and that’s where we are right now.”
The announcement, made during an update on school start times, drew applause from several of those in attendance.
Getting elementary school start times to 8 a.m., and perhaps later, addresses a concern raised by some parents in the community about young kids getting up and starting school too early—a concern that led to years of charged debate and a referendum vote earlier this month. The referendum—targeting about $460,000 in Board of Ed funding for buses needed to realize the changes to school start times—did not pass. The school board at a meeting following the referendum voted 6-2 to institute the new start times schedule next year (it’s planned to take effect in April).
One of the Board of Ed members who had voted against the plan at that June 7 meeting, Dionna Carlson, said during Monday’s meeting that she was “thrilled that we are getting to 8 o’clock.”
Carlson, Board Chair Katrina Parkhill, Secretary Jennifer Richardson and members Penny Rashin, Sheri West and Bob Naughton voted 6-0 to transfer $126,000 from the Board of Ed’s salary account to its equipment account in order to purchase the two vehicles. Board Vice Chair Brendan Hayes and member Carl Gardiner appeared to be absent. The Board also has one open seat, as Julie Mackle Reeves resigned last week because she’s moving out of state. (A special meeting is scheduled for Wednesday to approve Pat O’Connell to fill the open seat.)
Luizzi said district officials will continue working to get the 9:20 a.m. start time for fifth- and sixth-graders as wearily as possible.
“We will try to get high school to 8:30 [a.m.] although that’s a really tall order, to make it a half-hour given all the constraints that we are under,” he said. “But between space and time and human behavior and resources and strategically looking at all of this, this summer we will be riding the routes. [NCPS Director of Finance and Operations] Dr. [Jo-Ann] Keating and I will take our show on the road a little bit and we will ride some of these longer routes and get a sense and work through and continue to refine it. This is what it takes. It take real focus to do this. And that’s what you asked us to do and that is what we committed doing, and we have from the beginning.”
Together with himself and Keating, Transportation Coordinator Roy Walder has been hard at work to achieve even better start times, Luizzi said.
Board of Ed members asked whether the first pickup time would still be 7:10 a.m. with an 8 a.m. start (maybe, but that’s still being worked on), whether there will still be a need for earlier dismissals for some school sports (unclear right now), whether there will be flexibility in scheduling for teachers with particularly long commutes (the block schedule will rotate), why NCPS doesn’t contract with DATTCO for the two additional small buses (it’s more prudent financially to do it in-house because drivers are already on staff) and whether the schools are following up on possibly allowing students to opt-out of buses (yes).
Carlson asked whether the Board of Ed would need Board of Finance approval to purchase the two smaller buses.
Keating said, “The Board has the right to purchase whatever they choose to in their bottom-line allocation.” She added that the district purchases equipment throughout the school year that runs into the tens of thousands of dollars, and that she will confirm what’s allowable with an outside CPA from an accounting and advisory firm that’s consulted for NCPS in the past.
Luizzi said the new buses can be used to transport students in the NCHS alternative program for experiential learning, as well as for smaller sports teams such as tennis and golf.
According to Keating, the district may need to hire an additional type-1 school bus at $110,000 per year in order to accomplish the best possible routing plan.
The 8:35 a.m. start time for the high school puts the end of the day there at 3:05 p.m., Luizzi said.
“The focus is now on that 9:20 [a.m.] and trying to work to bring that as close to 9 o’clock as possible and continue to refine routes,” he said.
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