Busing muddies school start times debate

Busing muddies school start times debate

School Bus
School Bus
The School Committee recently received information on the number of buses that would be needed to accommodate a number of different bell schedules.

Put another nail in the coffin for any potential changes to school start times in Barrington this fall.

The Barrington School Committee recently received an updated set of proposals from its transportation provider, First Student, examining the numbers of buses that would be required to accommodate a change in current school schedules. The results ranged from 10 to 19 busses. The district currently utilizes nine buses, which operate in a three tier system beginning with the middle and high schools runs and ending with Hampden Meadows School.

At roughly $50,000 per bus, the options presented by the district’s transportation provider would result in $500,000 in potential additional costs.

The information marks the latest development in a conversation about potential school start time alterations that now appears on track to enter a third year this October.

At the heart of the discussion is a stance by the district’s health and wellness subcommittee that believes adolescents benefit from later start times and subsequently, more sleep, as backed by scientific studies.

In April, the school committee and representatives of the sub-committee hosted a public forum, which featured a discussion about the proposal’s potential impact on transportation.

One result of the forum was a request that First Student put together potential bus schedules based on start times proposed by district officials as opposed to the other way around. An earlier set of options was crafted by First Student and was presented at an earlier public forum, which was held in January.

The information received last month, however, didn’t seem to bring about any resolution.

For starters, two of the district’s schedule options would require 18 buses while another would require 19 buses. The two remaining district options, according to First Student, would require 15 buses.

The closest proposal to meeting the current transportation budget called for 10 busses and included bell times generated by First Student.

The schedule included an 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. schedule for middle and high school students, while elementary school students would start at 8:45 a.m. and end at 3:10 p.m., and Hampden Meadows School students would start at 9:30 a.m. and end at 4:10 p.m.

The extra bus in addition to what is currently used by the district reportedly centers on accommodating transportation for private school students.

School Superintendent Robert McIntyre, who officially retired at the end of last week, said getting feedback from private schools would be one consideration in pushing any potential schedule change beyond the fall.

School committee member Robert Shea, who also serves as chairman of the health and wellness sub-committee, agreed. He said the topic needed to be tabled and considered as part of a broader discussion.

The district is also weighing options for the future of Barrington Middle School and some of the proposals previously discussed include moving fifth grade to the middle school and potentially closing one elementary school.

In the meantime, Mr. Shea expressed frustration over the options provided by First Student. He said two of the options were centered on schedules that were only different by five minutes across the board. He said these likely could be combined to reduce the number of necessary buses.

“I’m not sure we’re fully exhausting the options we might come up with if we were a bit more creative,” Mr. Shea said.

School committee chairman Patrick Guida added additional questions will need to be asked of First Student.

Outside of transportation issues, a potential start time change has also been held up while officials await input from students.

Only a small percentage of local students responded to a survey earlier this spring amidst confusion of whether they were supposed to respond online or in school. Students are expected to be surveyed on the topic when school re-convenes in September.