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Wednesday, May 7, 2014 - 4:39pm

Savannah-Chatham County School Board Fails To Pass 2014-15 Bell Times

Parents in the Savannah-Chatham County Public School System will have to wait to find out what time their children will start and end each school day next year. The school board dismissed proposed changes to school bell times Wednesday amid concerns over student safety and achievement.

Board members plan to consider the issues further before setting times for the 2014-15 school year.

Some also raised concerns about drawing out the school scheduling process, relaying frustration from parents over the difficulty of scheduling work and travel with the school day still undefined.

“This is the most ridiculous thing to me that we spend this much time on this issue,” Board President Joseph Buck said just before the vote. He and District Five Board Member Irene Hines gave the only yea votes.

The proposal would have adjusted the start times at elementary, middle and K-8 schools in an effort to improve the efficiency of busing. The changes were recommended based on a report examining the school district’s transportation system.

The defeated plan also included a pilot program to test how different start times might affect academic performance.

Research has shown high school students perform better with more sleep and a later start, Superintendent Thomas Lockamy told the board. Though there is less research to support it, Lockamy said many also believe young children are most alert in the morning. The pilot program called for a later start time at three high schools and earlier starts at eight elementary and middle schools to determine if the change would improve academic performance.

Board members voted against the plan based on a range of concerns, including bus stop safety and academic performance.

Some said they fear for the safety of young students required to stand outside in the dark, some of whom they said already arrive at bus stops as early as 5:20 a.m.

District Four Board Member Shawn Kachmar suggested it might make more sense to start elementary schools first, then middle, then high schools, based on the idea that younger students perform better earlier. Middle schools would have started earliest in the pilot plan.

Kachmar also voiced a concern echoed by many board members that setting new start times each year is confusing and difficult for parents. “We need to put serious thought and study into bell times,” he said. Once decided, he felt the board should “leave it alone for a decade.”

Others agreed that the pilot program start times should stay in place for more than a year as well, in order to effectively gauge how the changes worked.

An alternate motion to leave the times unchanged but extend the pilot program also failed because members felt it did not address the expensive inefficiencies in the busing system that prompted the proposed changes in the first place.

The board agreed to develop a new plan that would incorporate the transportation efficiency report as well as the concerns raised at the meeting.

The next meeting is scheduled for June 4.

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