Board asks Starr to continue bell times review -- Gazette.Net


The Montgomery County school board has asked Superintendent Joshua P. Starr to take another look at other — cheaper — possible plans for changing school bell times.

O’Neill, saying she wanted to continue the conversation, put forward a motion at the school board’s June 17 meeting asking Starr to consider other lower-cost options for changing school start times that cost $10 million or less.

“I guess I have to say I’m disappointed,” O’Neill said. “I really believed that there was the potential of a viable option with this.”

Starr announced June 10 that he was stepping way from a plan he proposed in October to start high schools 50 minutes later, start middle schools 10 minutes earlier and have the elementary schools day end 30 minutes later.

Starr cited a high estimated price tag for the plan — at least $21.6 million a year due to transportation and other costs — and mixed community feedback on the plan.

The proposal centered on starting high schools at 8:15 a.m. instead of 7:25 a.m. to allow high school students to get more sleep.

Between October and Starr’s recent decision to drop the recommendation, school system staff gathered community feedback and assessed the proposal’s financial implications.

O’Neill said during the June 17 meeting that $21 million dollars is “impossible” for the school system, but that she wanted to keep exploring other “creative options.”

The board unanimously passed O’Neill’s proposal, which calls for another report from Starr by January 2015 when board members begin their discussions on the fiscal 2016 operating budget.

School board President Philip Kauffman said he wanted Starr to consider a plan the board considered in 1998 that proposed a split schedule for high schools — some high schools would start at an earlier time and other high schools would start at a later time.

School board member Christopher S. Barclay said he was concerned about the estimated cost of the plan Starr had put foward.

Barclay questioned, even if the County Council would agree to add the money each year, whether school start times is the right thing to spend about $21 million on.

He said he supported the idea of looking into less expensive options.

“While 10 million isn’t inexpensive, that seems a little more reasonable and potentially manageable,” he said.

Michael Durso, another school board member, asked school system staff why the county school system’s proposed bell times plan cost more than several plans under consideration in Fairfax County Public Schools.

Starr said the school system will look further into Fairfax County’s plans and the outcome of their process to see if anything can be applied to Montgomery County schools.

If Fairfax comes up with measures that would fit Montgomery schools, he said, the system would be “happy to follow suit.”

O’Neill also raised the issue of the quantity of homework students get, saying the amount might contribute to students’ lack of sleep.

“We need to come up with a better handle on this and give some relief on ... that end of the spectrum in addition to the actual start times,” she said.

Starr said that, from casual conversations with students, he has heard that students are doing other things — like texting and tweeting — while they’re doing homework. He said that, in addition to homework quantity, he wondered whether students were also losing sleep because they weren’t focused while doing their work.