New school schedules proposed

Published 6:48 pm Saturday, January 12, 2013

A proposal to put Suffolk’s public schools on four different bell times instead of two would eliminate 30 bus driver positions and save $865,000, officials said at a Thursday School Board workshop.

The proposal, presented at a workshop by district Assistant Superintendent for Administrative Services Kevin Alston and Coordinator of Transportation Lonnie Reavis, responds in part to concerns about double-runs required at John Yeates, King’s Fork and John F. Kennedy middle schools and Nansemond River and King’s Fork high schools.

While the current schedule uses 163 contracted bus drivers with high and middle schools operating from 7:40 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. and elementary schools from 9 a.m. to 3:15 p.m., the proposal uses separate schedules for high and middle schools and divides elementary schools into “A” and “B” schedules, thereby shedding 30 drivers.

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The proposal would have middle school students arriving at 7 a.m., while students from “B” elementary schools — Booker T. Washington, Hillpoint, Oakland, Creekside, Nansemond Parkway and Southwestern — would arrive at 9:10 a.m. instead of the current 8:30 a.m.

High school students, getting an extra 45 minutes’ sleep, would be some of the main beneficiaries, Alston said.

“There is a lot of research that high school students really do better when they come to school later,” he said. “It also helps us with some extra transportation.”

The staggered system would make more drivers available and their runs shorter, he said.

It would also ease congestion at King’s Fork high and middle schools, which sit directly across the street from one another, and on U.S. Route 58 near Lakeland High and Forest Glen Middle, he said.

Transportation of students for after-school activities would also be streamlined, he said, and drivers would be more available to cover for ill colleagues.

But board member Linda Bouchard was concerned how bus drivers would perceive the proposal. “Are they going to go ‘Holy Toledo! I’m not getting a raise, but I’m working more hours?’” she asked.

Alston replied that drivers now contracted for five hours a day would be contracted for 6 ¼ hours.

“How are the bus drivers going to look at this?” Bouchard questioned again. Reavis replied it would probably be “a mixed bag.”

Judith Brooks-Buck, the board’s new member, questioned the wisdom of having middle school students, who often already wait in the dark, catching the bus 20 minutes earlier.

“It’s going to be dark — very dark — when they are making their way to the bus stop,” she said.