In an effort to address the Greenfield School District's on-again, off-again hot topic of school start times without experiencing a significant fiscal impact, district administrators are looking outside the box.
Mostly because their inside-the-box ideas have not gained the majority of the School Board’s approval.
Nearly a year and a half after the Greenfield School Board voted down a proposal to change Greenfield High School's start times from 7:10 a.m. to 7:45 a.m. or later because of concerns of additional busing costs, administrators offered a few new ideas Monday.
The ideas, all in the early stages of development, revolve around the school’s tardiness problem.
In 2007-08, when the GHS start time changed from 7:15 a.m. to 7:10 a.m., the tardy-to-school rate doubled from the previous year, according to data provided to the board by administration. Unexcused tardies to school went from 4,086 in 2006-07 to 7,956 in 08-08. They have remained above 7,000 every year since.
An idea administration floated out to the board Monday was for chronically tardy students to start school at the second hour of the day. Those students could conceivably have no study hall, so they wouldn’t have any less opportunities to acquire credits necessary to graduate, or have a first-hour study hall that would make their arrival time flexible.
Another possibility would be to add another academic period at the end of the school day.
Board member Cathy Walsh said she liked flexible scheduling for all students and regretted the board’s action to change the start time in the first place.
“We should have never let a bus company determine our high school schedule,” she said. “That was a big, big, big mistake. We should be making a schedule and start time based on what’s best for our students academically.
“What’s good about a 7:10 start time? Nothing is good about it, yet we’re defending it as if it’s the best thing that ever happened to our schools. Look where we are academically.”
In May 2011, after an ad hoc committee studied the impact of the early start times, administration proposed a new start time that would have cost the district $210,000 in new busing costs. The board rejected the proposal.
Walsh, who was not on the board at the time, said money should not be the sole deciding factor.
“I want to remind the board that we had a pretty healthy amount of money in our budget (fund balance) last year and the year before that and the year before that,” Walsh said. “We haven’t been spending all of our budget each year. Although I’m not in favor of spending $200,000 on busing, we owe it to the community to do something.”
Board member Rick Moze said making the schedule a flexible one for those with tardiness issues only rewards those who aren’t getting to school on time and would make the problem worse. Dolores Skowronek, a Greenfield parent and member of the executive board of a national coalition called Start School Later, said changes should be made for all students, not just those who are chronically tardy.
“The evidence is overwhelming,” Skowronek said. “Early high school start times, such as ours, do not enhance academic achievement, do not promote wellness and do not prepare students for success. … Our students deserve better.”
Superintendent Conrad Farner said potential impacts of the suggestions presented to the board Monday had not yet been ironed out.
He said tardiness is a problem administration is looking into, and added over the last few years, the administrative team has spent hundreds of hours looking into scheduling changes the board eventually shot down.
“How much more time do you want us to put into it?” Farner said.
School board president Bruce Bailey, who voted against the change in May 2011, said a start time of 7:30 a.m. would be better than the current start time — “Then people couldn’t say we have the earliest start time in the world,” he said — but admitted he’s not sure what else the board can learn that hasn't already been discussed.
The board agreed to revisit the issue at its meeting next month.