BOE Member Wants Low-Cost Options For Later School Start Times

A member of the Board of Education wants MCPS to look at lower cost options for moving back high school start times before scrapping the idea.

Board of Education Vice President Patricia O’Neill on Tuesday introduced a resolution requesting MCPS Superintendent Joshua Starr come up with other proposals for later high school days. This came after Starr recommended against his own proposal last week, justifying the decision in part because of costs that could exceed $20 million.

“I fully understand the superintendent’s decision not to recommend moving forward at this time given the fiscal challenges that we face in Fiscal Year (FY) 2016,” O’Neill wrote. “However, I believe we should continue to explore other lower cost options and their implications to see if it is possible to address the interests of our community and to offer some relief to our high school students.”

Starr tied moving high school start times back 50 minutes to moving middle school start times up 10 minutes and extending the elementary school day by 30 minutes.

The report that accompanied Starr’s recommendation cited the estimated $21.6 million in costs of making the switch. The costs would include $12.9 million to buy and operate 57 extra general education buses and 96 extra buses for magnet and special education students.

MCPS also said it found that adding 30 minutes to the elementary school day — whether by extending recess or lunch or increasing art, music or physical education classes — would cost between $8 million and $47 million a year.

The decision was a surprise to some, especially advocates for moving start times back who felt Starr was on the same page. Some seemed miffed as to why Starr’s recommendation tied the later high school start time to the longer elementary school day. MCPS also cited mixed opinions among polling of elementary school parents and students as a reason against the switch.

The Washington Post editorial board came out Monday and said Starr’s reversal was “wrong,” and that the Board of Education needed to reconsider it during its session Tuesday. Parents and students for moving high school start times back brought signs to the morning portion of the session in Rockville.

O’Neill wondered why Starr’s proposal was deemed to be so expensive:

I am disappointed that a viable, cost-efficient proposal is not before the Board for consideration. I understand that Fairfax County Public Schools is reviewing four options that range in cost from $2.8 to $7.7 million. I believe it is important for Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) to review those options and other options elsewhere, and determine if there are any feasible options for MCPS that fall within a similar cost range.

The resolution asks Starr to review options for moving back start times that are less than $10 million and to submit a report to the Board in time for consideration during the FY 2016 operating budget request.

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