Wake families urge schools not to shift schedules

wake county parents fear disruptions, costlier child care

khui@newsobserver.com, tgoldsmith@newsobserver.comFebruary 15, 2012 

Parents across Wake County are telling the school system that proposed schedule changes this fall will increase their child-care costs and disrupt their children's activity and sleep schedules.

A repeated theme among the more than 6,200 responses to the school system's ongoing survey is that shifting when schools start and dismiss will inconvenience families. Wake County school administrators say the changes that would affect most of Wake's 165 schools will save $10 million in transportation-related costs and make bus service more efficient, but parents say they're worried they'll pay the price instead.

"I agree that saving $10 million is a lot of money, but there has to be some other way," Cyndi Tomblin, a Cary parent facing thousands of dollars in additional child-care costs, said in an interview Tuesday.

The survey results will be forwarded to school board members before they discuss the proposed changes Tuesday.

Superintendent Tony Tata said he realizes the changes will affect families across the state's largest school district. But Tata said he also has to consider that a reversal could cost $10 million at a time when the district is bracing for the loss in $40 million in federal and state funding next year.

Tata said Wake faced having to add 52 buses this fall to keep up with growth. He said the changes will eliminate the need to buy new buses and allow the current fleet to be cut by 60 buses. He said this will result in Wake's not losing $4 million in state funding, which is based on system efficiency, and to avoid spending $6 million for buying and operating buses.

"We think it's a win-win from a school system perspective as far as safety, efficiency and best use of taxpayer funding," Tata said. "There is a benefit to our school system, and then there's the impact on individual families, and that's where we need to hear from parents."

'Minimal' impact

Under the proposal, most of Wake's schools would see their schedules shift by 10 minutes or less. But 42 schools would see changes of at least 11 minutes. Of that group, 18 schools would see changes of at least 50 minutes each day.

Tata has said that the changes would have "minimal" impact on most schools' schedules. But Julea Danielson, a parent from Cary, said that even a 10-minute change can have a major impact on families.

With a residence in northeast Cary and a job as a business analyst on Harrison Avenue, Danielson said the 10-minute change in starting time at Mills Park Elementary - from 9:15 a.m. to 9:25 a.m.- will throw off her schedule and mean paying for before-school care for her children, 6 and 9.

"It puts everybody's schedule at the tipping point," Danielson said in an interview. "Right now the bus picks them up at 8:30, and I can get to work at 9 o'clock. That extra ten minutes will push me over to where I can't get there on time."

Danielson is already paying $400 each month in after-care for her children; adding before-school care, which she says offers little activity for them, will raise the cost to $620 per month.

Tata said his staff is talking with schools and groups like the YMCA about how to handle the impact of the changes on child-care needs.

Parents talked in the survey about how the changes would disrupt their family's daily routines.

"Families have structured their lives around the current bell schedules," Carter Thunes said in a survey response about starting Lufkin Road Middle 45 minutes later. "These bell schedules dictated when they got up, when they go to work, when doctor appointments could be scheduled, when homework could be done, when sports practices could be attended, when they ate dinner, and what time they needed to go to bed."

A number of the responses came from parents concerned that the proposal would shift several high schools, including Broughton High, to an earlier start time of 7:25 a.m. Survey respondents pointed to research that indicates teens need more sleep than younger students.

"Requiring the 3,500+ Broughton (and other affected high school) students to arrive 40 minutes earlier each day equals teenage sleep deprivation, lower grades, poor time management, rise in tardy rates, and significant transportation issues for parents with younger siblings," Anna Deonanan said in the survey about Broughton's proposed change.

Some parents in the survey blamed the changes on the new choice-based student assignment plan going into effect this fall. Nathan Rudy, while complaining in the survey about the change to Adams Elementary, said "this draconian 'savings' effort would be simply unnecessary" if the plan wasn't implemented.

Tata and school transportation staff said that Wake would have to make the bus routing changes even if they hadn't switched to the new assignment plan.

A small but vocal group of parents who participated in the survey said they support the change because of the projected cost savings.

"I realize it will inconvenience some parents," Phyllis Slawter, a North Raleigh parent, said in an interview.

"But we have to think about what's best for all of Wake County and not just for specific groups or specific schools."

News researcher David Raynor contributed to this report.

Hui: 919-829-4534

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