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For the first time since it opened its doors 58 years ago, St. Peter’s Catholic School in Waldorf will change its start and end times. The school also will no longer use Charles County Public Schools’ buses, school administrators said.

Beginning on the first day of school Aug. 25, St. Peter’s will start classes at 8:15 a.m. and end at 3:15 p.m., creating a seven-hour school day.

This is a change from the six-and-a-half-hour school day that formerly ran from 9:10 a.m. to 3:40 p.m.

Eliminating school buses and changing the times for school came about last month when cuts in the public schools’ budget eliminated dedicated routes for private schools.

Charles County Public Schools still is offering transportation for the private schools, which along with St. Peter’s include Archbishop Neale School in La Plata and St. Mary’s School in Bryantown. However, the schools now will share buses with public school children, and due to the route sharing, St. Peter’s would have had to adjust its start time to 7:30 a.m.

ANS and Bryantown already have been sharing school buses. ANS students ride buses with student from La Plata and Maurice J. McDonough high schools, and the Bryantown school has shared a bus with children at T.C. Martin Elementary School for several years.

The decision from the school system came as part of $5.5 million in reductions to its fiscal 2015 operating budget to cover a shortfall due to costs to operate and maintain the new St. Charles High School.

Eliminating dedicated routes for private schools saved the school system $500,000.

St. Peter’s Principal J.R. West put together a survey for his schools’ parents shortly after the decision was made to see how necessary bus transportation was for its school community and how the changes in the bus routes and school time would affect families.

West said 177 of 202 families completed the survey.

The largest response came from the question on the survey that asked if parents would still have their child attend the school if the start time changed to 7:30 a.m., he said. West said 37 parents, or 15 percent, said no. Potentially losing 37 students, he said, would represent a $200,000 loss for the school.

West said 89 percent of those who took the survey prefer an 8:15 a.m. start.

Changing to a seven-hour day adds a half hour to each school day, which translates to 90 hours of additional instruction time each year, West said.

He said 28 parents of the 128 students who ride a bus to St. Peter’s indicated transportation was essential to attending the school.

West said he is working to find alternative transportation for those students who need it.

Erica McIvor, a parent of two students at St. Peter’s, said the county threw a curveball at St. Peter’s by changing to a shared-bus-route option.

She said the change would have had students as young as 4 getting on a bus as early as 6:40 a.m. and riding with high school students. Those in day care, she said, sometimes are there until 6:30 p.m., making for a very long day.

She said she appreciated West taking the survey and figuring out what would work best for all students.

“We took a potentially bad situation and turned it into a very positive one,” West said.

He said the school system’s budget cut opened up the door to provide multiple options on his end. For several years he had kicked around the idea of going to a seven-hour day as opposed to a six-and-a-half-hour day, he said.

He said the budget cut was a good opportunity to get a read on parents to see if that would be a good option, and based on the results of his survey, he said it is.

McIvor drives her children to school each day but said the change from the school system would have affected car riders, too, due to the 7:30 a.m. start.

Without the school buses, St. Peter’s also will be able to create a school calendar that does not have to align with the public school calendar.

For example, on days public schools have a two-hour early dismissal due to professional development days, St. Peter’s schedule does not have to include that day as an early dismissal day.

That offers “a lot of flexibility for us,” West said.

School staff is working to create class schedules and the school calendar, both of which West said would be complete in early August.

With the start-time change, West said staff has to create class schedules in order to work in the additional half hour each day.

“There is a lot of work to do between now and Aug. 25,” West said.

gphillips@somdnews.com