CARY — Fewer Wake County schools could see schedule changes this fall following an outpouring of parental complaints about the impact of the proposed time shifts.
School administrators proposed Tuesday that 53 of Wake's 169 schools change times, compared with an earlier proposal that would have impacted most schools. The new plan would have only five schools change their schedules by more than 50 minutes a day, down from 18 schools before.
Although fewer schools are changing, administrators say that the proposal could still lead to $12.6 million in savings over the next two years.
"I'm pleased that they listened to the parental concerns and made changes while still addressing the cost implications," said school board member John Tedesco.
Citing the need to make bus service more efficient, administrators had presented the initial proposal on Feb. 7. In addition to changing the majority of schools by 10 minutes or less, it had 42 schools seeing shifts of at least 11 minutes a day.
In an online survey that drew 9,452 responses, a number of parents raised concerns that the changes could increase their child care cost. Parents said that even a 10-minute change could have a major impact.
The new plan would drop a change that would have the majority of elementary schools shift to a 9:25 a.m. to 3:55 p.m. schedule. They'd stay on the 9:15 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. slot.
"It's a step in the right direction," said school board member Christine Kushner, adding that "9:25 is just too late."
Administrators have argued that the school transportation system, which transports more than 75,000 students a day, is in need of an overhaul to maintain state funding and to improve service.
The state funds local school districts based on an efficiency formula that looks at the number of buses on the road and the number of students per bus.
Bob Snidemiller, the district's senior director of transportation, said that Wake's efficiency rating will drop next year no matter what the district does, resulting in a $3 million loss of funding. He said the funding loss is because of strains on Wake's ability to keep up service in the face of growth and how other school districts are making themselves more efficient by cutting service.
But Snidemiller said the changes will allow Wake to reduce the number of buses now on the road by 60. He said this will restore Wake's efficiency rating, along with the state funding, for the 2013-14 school.
He said the proposal also will allow Wake to save money on operating costs and not having to purchase new buses.
Snidemiller had previously told board members they could save $10 million for the upcoming year but the amount was changed to a two-year savings total because of the anticipated loss in state funding this year.
Staff repeatedly said Tuesday that the bus system isn't being changed because of the new student assignment plan. The Great Schools in Wake Coalition has charged that the schedule changes are an attempt to hide the costs of the assignment plan.
In addition to revising the recommended changes for this fall, staff presented an alternative option Tuesday that would allow them not to change the times of the five schools by more than 50 minutes. But administrators aren't recommending this option because the savings over two years would be only $10.3 million.
Under the plan, Davis Drive, Green, Wendell and Zebulon elementary schools would shift from starting at 7:45 a.m. to 9:15 a.m. North Garner Middle's start time would shift from 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. if the school board adopts the staff plan.
Under board policy, the board has until March 31 to adopt this fall's bell schedules.
Deputy Superintendent Cathy Moore cautioned board members that whatever they adopt may need to be changed if the state leaves in place the requirement that schools extend the school year by five days and 25 additional hours of instruction.
Wake, like a majority of school districts in the state, has asked for at least a partial waiver of the additional days and time.