Bertie debates staggered school hours

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 7, 2005

WINDSOR -John F. Smith Sr. is less than two months away from retirement, but he’s apparently not ready to settle into a rocking chair just yet.

At last week’s Bertie Board of Education meeting, the school superintendent let it be known that he was willing to follow the guidance of the Board, especially in regards to the highly publicized, and much debated, release of an audit that alleged the Bertie Schools administrative team could do a better job financially.

As a part of that study, one estimating an overall savings of $7.7 million in school spending over a five-year period, Smith introduced a cost-saving measure dealing with staggered openings and closings of the nine schools in the Bertie system.

The financial impact would be felt in lowering transportation costs by reducing the number of buses. Currently, Bertie has 86 buses in use each school day. Fifty of those vehicles have routes that can be covered in one hour or less. The idea would be to use a portion of those buses to run more than one daily route.

To make that happen, schools would have to stagger their opening and closing hours.

Smith presented two options to the Board.

Option #1 was a seven-hour school day where the high school and middle schools would open at 7:30 a.m. and close at 2:30 p.m. while the elementary school students would attend class from 8:45 a.m. until 3:45 p.m.

Smith’s second option detailed a 7.5 hour day. There, high school and middle school students would see class hours from 8 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. (or 7:30 a.m. – 2 p.m.). Class times for elementary students would be from 9:15 a.m. until 3:45 p.m. (or 8:45 a.m. – 3:15 p.m.).

Teachers and their assistants would not see a change in the number of hours they work daily (7.25 hours).

Smith’s suggestions were met with debate.

&uot;I agree that we can save money on the buses, but the drawback comes in inclement weather,&uot; Board member Rickey Freeman said. &uot;With drivers running more than one route, that could prove to be a nightmare.&uot;

Board Chairman Gary Cordon was concerned about children, those reporting to school later in the morning, being left alone at home.

&uot;Under this proposal, the parents of the younger students would have already left home for work, leaving these children alone; that concerns me,&uot; Cordon stressed.

Board member Melinda Eure pointed out that some of the bus drivers hold down other jobs, including teacher assistants who double as drivers. She wanted to know if they would be able to obligate themselves to running a second route and not jeopardize their other source of income.

Even Smith had reservations about the plan, one suggested by the auditors.

&uot;Staggered school times work well in an urban setting where buses basically run through neighborhoods,&uot; he said. &uot;In our rural setting, 799 square miles presents a problem.&uot;

Cordon said the best course of action would be to gain additional input from principals, teachers and parents. He suggested further discussion on the matter at the next Board meeting.

In another item related to the audit, Smith announced that 10 vehicles owned by the school system would be sold at a May 21 auction. That surplus auction would also include other items such as used computers, printers and monitors.