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Start time for middle schools won't change

Middle school students won't have to get up earlier than usual for the rest of the school year, but there could be a change next fall.

The district was considering starting middle school 10 minutes earlier, at 7:45 a.m., to stop delays in buses getting to elementary schools, but after an online survey showed some parents oppose the change, superintendent Mark Porter said the district will wait to make a decision on how to solve the problem.

In late October, district transportation director Gary Dechaine told the board that 22 buses were arriving late to pick up elementary school students on afternoon runs. He hoped that the situation would resolve itself when students found their buses more quickly, but the problem didn't go away.

Dechaine said he made a mistake in scheduling and didn't allow enough time to bus kids home from middle schools. That caused buses to be late in picking up elementary school students. Delays also affect picking up high school students because those are the last runs of the day.

The transportation department contracted for 10 additional buses to solve delays of more than 10 minutes including some outlying routes that were 20 minutes late.

Dechaine told the school board that moving the start times for Cottage Grove, Woodbury, Oltman and Lake middle schools 10 minutes earlier would be the most economical solution.

Board members were reluctant to change the middle school start time without hearing parents' opinions.

An informal online survey on the district's Web site, directed at parents of middle school students, got 2,179 responses by concerned parents, and many of them opposed the change.

Porter said he decided last week not to impose a new start time because, while it would solve the immediate problem, it might not be the right decision for the long term.

"We could have made the change and then have to change it again for next year," he said.

The 10 additional buses will cost $120,000 through the end of the school year, according to Mike Vogel, assistant to the superintendent for operations, who estimated the cost at the Oct. 22 board meeting.

Beyond the 10 already contracted, no further contracting is planned, Porter said, and no more buses will be bought because there is no additional storage space at the transportation center in Cottage Grove.

The bus-timing problem started this fall when new school start times went into effect.

The high school start time was moved ahead because of research that shows secondary students, because of a naturally occurring hormone that controls sleep, are not fully awake for learning until about 8 a.m.

That decision triggered start time changes at middle and elementary schools.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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