City schools standardize 'bell times' Changes expected to save $2 million in busing costs

Staggered schedules

Parents, guardians anticipate problems in new arrangements

August 02, 1998|By Jamal E. Watson | Jamal E. Watson,SUN STAFF

Baltimore's public schools will change the times students begin and end classes this year, creating more uniform schedules designed to save nearly $2 million in transportation costs.

Elementary school pupils will start school earliest, with middle school and high school students beginning school at least a half-hour later each morning. School officials have also added 10 minutes to the school day.

The scheduling, which is being publicized by the school system, has the potential to cause problems for a number of parents and guardians.

Until this year, Baltimore had allowed each school's principal to determine when classes started and ended.

School administrators plan to use about 300 buses -- down from 393 last year -- to transport elementary-age and special education students. Buses that made one or two trips per day last year will make three or four trips per day.

Using fewer buses requires that school schedules be staggered by school.

For example, a school bus could pick up children and drop them at school at 7: 35 a.m. for a 7: 45 a.m. start. It could then make a second trip to pick up children and drop them off at another school in time to begin classes at 8 a.m.

Principals will continue to decide when the bell rings starting school and when it rings to end the day, called bell changes. But there are new parameters on start and end times for the school year, which begins Aug. 31:

Elementary school pupils report to school at 7: 45 a.m. or 8 a.m. and leave at 2: 25 p.m. or 2: 40 p.m.

Middle and high school students report to school at 8: 15 a.m., 8: 30 a.m., 8: 45 a.m. or 9 a.m., and leave at 2: 55 p.m., 3: 10 p.m., 3: 25 p.m. or 3: 40 p.m.

Some parents may have received letters about the new times from individual schools. For others, the letters will be sent soon.

The changes worry Martha Davis, a 58-year-old grandmother raising three elementary school pupils. She sees a gap between the time she gets off work and the time her charges arrive home from school. Last year, she got home about the same time they did, at 3 p.m.

"I have to worry about what my three grandchildren will do since they will be out 20 to 30 minutes before I get home," Davis said. "I really don't feel comfortable leaving them in the house by themselves."

Administrators said they are sympathetic to parents' concerns, but the savings derived by the plan will put more money in classrooms.

"We understand that this may be an inconvenience to some parents," said Michael Hardesty, director of pupil transportation for the school system. He said the school system took some child-care issues into consideration by starting elementary students earliest to accommodate working parents worried about leaving children at home in the morning.

About 10,000 pupils ride the school buses daily. About 6,000 attend elementary school and 4,000 are in special education. The majority of the school system's students who ride buses, 28,000, travel on Mass Transit Administration transportation, the school system reported to the state last year.

The schedule for MTA's bus routes for students will change accordingly.

The remainder of the students walk to school or get rides from parents or others.

Several parents who have learned of the new schedule said the school system waited too long to notify parents and students.

Principals have known since June 29 that they were supposed to send out letters to parents, Hardesty said. The city school board announced the change at a meeting last month.

"School officials should have engaged in a dialogue with parents about the bell changes from the beginning," said Michael Hamilton, who learned about the new schedules because he is chairman of the school system's Parent Advisory Board. "Then parents would have known about the changes and would have been able to make the necessary arrangements."

Lucy Miller, Northwood Elementary's principal, said notification letters to her parents will go out next week.

"I am not sure if we sent out the letter earlier, it would have made much of a difference," she said.

Despite the lack of notification, Miller said she is hearing complaints about the new schedule.

One mother worried that a 7: 45 a.m. start time for elementary school would require some children to leave their homes in the dark in the winter to walk to school or wait for a bus.

Hardesty said the new schedule is part of a long-term initiative to expand the school day and increase instruction time.

But the main goal, Hardesty said, is to reduce transportation costs.

"We realized that cutting back on the number of buses would nTC mean a substantial amount that we wouldn't have to pay," Hardesty said.

Pub Date: 8/02/98

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