$500,000 savings projected if school times change

January 18, 1993|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Staff Writer

Howard County schools would save close to $500,000 a year in transportation costs if high schools started 15 minutes earlier, according to the schools' director of operations.

The change would enable the school system to transport the expected 1,500 additional students next year without having to arrange for more buses, said Robert Lazarewicz, director of operations.

"If we have these school times, we won't have to add new buses to accommodate new growth for students next year," he said at Thursday's Board of Education meeting, where the school board voted 4-to-1 for him to continue studying the effects of time changes.

The cost savings have already been considered in next year's proposed operating budget, so if the plan doesn't take affect, some changes in the budget will have to be made, Superintendent Michael E. Hickey said.

Under the plan, school buses would be able to make more runs, sometimes as many as six a day. High schools would start at 7:30 a.m. and end at 2 p.m. Most middle schools would start either at 7:45 a.m. or 8 a.m. and end at either 2:15 p.m. or 2:30 p.m.

There now are about 6,000 school bus stops in the county. About 23,000 students are registered to ride on buses, and close to 10,000 others walk to school.

School board members expressed concern that students would have to stand at bus stops in the dark of morning.

"I have a problem with our students out there before even sunrise is predicted," said Sandra French. "There are a lot of country roads out there [with people] driving very fast."

There are few shoulders that students can stand on as they wait for the bus, she said.

Mr. Lazarewicz said he didn't want elementary school students to walk or ride buses home in rush-hour traffic.

"We want to keep as many of the young kids out of the traffic peak as we could," he said, adding that high-schoolers tend to "cope better in traffic situations."

Other school systems already have early start times to save money. High schools in Montgomery County, for example, start at 7:05 a.m. And some schools in Anne Arundel County have started at 7:30 a.m. for more than 10 years.

Many students who are registered to ride buses do not, and the number of students who do ride the bus drops throughout the year because of extracurricular activities and sport practices, said Mr. Lazarewicz.

In some instances, he registers close to 100 students to ride on one school bus -- a practice akin to airlines when they overbook. The majority of these students don't take the bus unless they run short of gas money at the end of the week, he said.

"We're recognizing that a lot of high school students are not going to ride the bus," he said. "They're going to ride car pools, et cetera."

Board member Linda Johnston was concerned students may not be able to perform as well if they are in school earlier in the day. She asked what effect waking up earlier would have on student attention.

Mr. Lazarewicz had no answer and responded, "I guess we should ask the people in Montgomery County."

The other alternative is to increase walking distance -- for example, from 1 mile to 1.5 miles, but "the calls I got about changing school time will be magnified if we changed walking distance," said Mr. Lazarewicz.

Standing at the bus stop a little earlier is the "lesser of a number of evils," Deborah Kendig said.

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