Bell tolls on status quo

Published 9:14 pm Saturday, October 13, 2012

Suffolk Public Schools is considering changing its two-bell schedule to three or more bells to make bus routes more efficient and save costs.

The district’s secondary schools currently run from 7:40 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. and elementary schools and the Turlington Woods alternative school from 9 a.m. to 3:15 p.m.

At Thursday’s School Board meeting, district Assistant Superintendent for Administrative Services Kevin Alston, and Lonnie Reavis, the coordinator of transportation, suggested that staggering bells could eliminate drivers having to make double runs to some schools and enable the current fleet of 168 buses to be cut to 139, along with other benefits.

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In order to get students home, double-runs are required at John Yeates, King’s Fork and John F. Kennedy middle schools and Nansemond River and King’s Fork high schools, the meeting heard.

“We have to do double-runs because we have more secondary students than elementary students” and a single bus seat is approved for only two secondary students as opposed to three elementary students, Alston said.

Moving to three or four starting times could also reduce the need for special schedules for students involved in after-school activities such as band or sports and make it easier to cover runs for absent drivers.

It could also reduce traffic problems on the roads around some schools, including King’s Fork high and middle schools, the meeting also heard.

Reavis said other school systems in the region, including Chesapeake, Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Hampton and Newport News, also stagger bell schedules.

Board Chairman Michael Debranski said staggering bells is a “great suggestion … (and) something we need to look at for expediency and financial reasons.”

Alston hopes a study of some alternative schedules with routing software can be finalized by November.

Superintendent Deran Whitney requested “a complete proposal for staggered schedules and cost savings” for consideration by board members at January’s meeting.