Can the Wake County school system sell the public on the merits of the bell schedule changes for this fall?
As noted in today's article, school staff said the proposal would help Wake avoid $10 million in costs and revenue losses this fall. But school board members said it would take community outreach to explain it to parents why they're being asked to make changes of more than an hour in some cases.
"If we don't (do community outreach), we’re going to get thousands of calls and emails about this," said school board member John Tedesco.
The proposal will be posted on the school system's website for parents to view and to make public comments.
Bob Snidemiller, senior director of transportation, framed it as an issue of efficiency. Based on a formula to determine an efficiency rate, the state provides funding for school transportation. Wake is now 99.49 percent efficient according to the state formula.
In recent years, Snidemiller said other school systems have cut their service to maintain a high efficiency rating. He said Wake instead chose to cut costs while running more buses, serving more students and dealing with rising fuel costs. He said cuts had allowed Wake's transportation budget to drop from $69 million in 2008-09 down now to $64 million.
But Snidemiller said the transportation system is seeing strains that, if left unchanged, could drop the efficiency rating this fall to 91 percent. He said that would drop state funding by $4 million. But he said the bell schedule changes will keep the efficiency rating at 99 percent to avoid the loss in funding.
Snidemiller said there are also $6.3 million in additional capital and operating costs that can be avoided by adopting the bell schedule changes.
He said that leaving the system as is would require adding 52 more buses and drivers.
But Snidemiller said that the new bell schedule would not only avoid adding the new buses but would also allow them to shrink the size of the current fleet by 60 buses. This would mean Wake could operate 873 buses this fall instead of the 933 now on the road and the 985 they projected would be needed if the bell schedules weren't changed.
The bell schedule changes would expand the length of time between start and dismissal times.
Snidemiller said the wider spacing between tiers means they can better accommodate the new choice-based student assignment plan. He said they'll be able to slightly extend runs without the need to run additional buses.
Snidemiller said the changes would also improve customer service since the longer time between dismissals means he's confident they'll be able to get buses to schools by the time the closing bell rings. Currently, Don Haydon, the chief facilities and operations officer, said it's not uncommon for buses to arrive 30 minutes after dismissal.
With the buses more likely to arrive at time, Haydon said elementary school students might actually get home at the same time as they do now even though they'd be dismissed 10 minutes later.
Even with the changes, Snidemiller said bus ride times aren't expected to be significantly impacted.
“The average ride time is 16 minutes," Snidemiller said. "We don’t think it’s really going to increase it all that much.”
School board member Debra Goldman raised concerns that the changes in times could impact how families make their school choices. Board member Susan Evans said she agreed with that concern.
Judy Peppler, the district's chief transformation officer, told board members that schools are looking at what before- and after-school programs are available to help deal with the impact of the bell schedule changes.
Under board policy, the board has until April 1 to adopt the bell schedule. But several board members said they should adopt them soon so parents will know for sure what they're facing this fall.
Click here for the handout from the board meeting. It lists the proposed bell schedules.
Wake has fixed some errors with the individual school times from yesterday's handout. I've replaced the link with the new one. Wake made more corrections Thursday.