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District 833 could bump up middle schools' start time to trim bus costs

The District 833 School Board is considering having middle school students start class earlier to save $190,000 in busing costs.

The board is discussing changing the start time for the district's four middle schools from 7:55 a.m. to 7:35 a.m., which would eliminate the need to lease 10 buses. The proposal, discussed at the board's Thursday workshop, also would solve a bus scheduling problem that developed in October of 2009 when the district change attendance boundaries, opened a new high school, moved ninth-graders to high schools and changed junior highs to middle schools with grades 6-8.

At the time of those changes, school start times were also changed and a fifth start time added for elementary schools. High school start times were moved from 7:30 a.m. to 8:35 a.m. because education research suggesting that early morning classes hinder learning for high school students.

But amid those numerous changes, a glitch developed in bus scheduling for middle schools that caused buses to be up to 40 minutes late to pick up elementary school kids. It was solved by adding 10 leased buses, for $120,000 the first year and $190,000 this year, a cost the board wants to eliminate as it looks to trim $2 million from next year's budget.

When the problem was brought to the board two years ago, there were no easy answers and the board opted for stability and leased the buses, said Superintendent Mark Porter.

Since the problem first developed, other district changes have added to the difficulty of bus scheduling, including that Spanish Immersion students at Crestview Elementary School, who live in all areas of the district, have progressed to Cottage Grove Middle School. When combined with the cost of adding preschool for 4-year-olds this year, it increased busing costs by $70,000.

For the third year, the transportation department has used fund reserves to cover budget deficits, but the fund is dwindling, according to Gary Dechaine, transportation director.

The budget has also been affected by increasing fuel costs.

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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