School schedules to be debated

Published 10:14 pm Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Suffolk Public Schools has announced three public input sessions on its plan to set up a new schedule of starting times for the system’s schools.

While one public meeting was initially planned, three have been announced after new member Judith Brooks-Buck’s call for multiple events found support during last week’s School Board meeting.

The school district has announced 7 p.m. meetings at Lakeland High School on Tuesday, at Nansemond River High School on Feb. 27, and at King’s Fork Middle School on Feb. 28.

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Currently, the district’s high school and middle students are in class from 7:40 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. each weekday, and elementary schools and the Turlington Woods alternative school are in session from 9 a.m. to 3:15 p.m.

The new plan would set separate schedules for high and middle schools and divide elementary schools into “A” and “B” schedules.

Middle school students would arrive 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.

The plan would eliminate the double-runs required for some schools, officials say, and help get bodies behind steering wheels when drivers are out sick by extending contracted daily hours from five to 6 ¼ hours. It would also require fewer drivers than the current system, officials say.

By shedding 30 of the currently contracted 163 drivers, and through other cost savings, the district anticipates the plan would save $700,000, an outcome included in the proposed 2013-2014 budget.

Some members of the Suffolk City Bus Drivers Association raised concerns at their regular meeting last week. Among those concerns is the worry that many parents will struggle with childcare arrangements.

At the School Board meeting, member Linda Bouchard said: “There are a lot of people that have called and want an opportunity (to comment). This is a very important issue that has started a lot of interest in the community.”

Brooks-Buck was concerned her constituents in North Suffolk might miss out with only one public hearing, and fellow member Enoch Copeland suggested holding one at each of the three high schools.

The hearings will include an explanation of the proposal with administrators on hand to answer questions, a district news release stated.

Citizens will be able to ask questions at a March 14 budget hearing.