A proposal by Kyrene school officials to have staggered class start and end times across the district’s 25 schools could save as much as $1.2 million, but some parents are complaining that it would throw their homelife into chaos.
The change – which would take effect next school year if the governing board approves it – not only would save between $900,000 and $1.2 million that could be plowed back into educational programs but would also give bus drivers more hours, increasing the attractiveness of jobs that Kyrene and many other districts have trouble filling for various reasons.
But it also would force households – and many teachers – to rearrange their own lives. In at least some cases, teachers who have second jobs could be impacted while parents would have to find ways to accommodate after-school and other activities.
The proposed change would mean that start times would range between 7:30-9 a.m. and end times range between 2:30-4 p.m. Pre-school starts would be adjusted accordingly as well, although there would be no change to the ending times for Community Education programs that run before and after regular classes.
“I come from districts where that’s normal,” said Superintendent Jan Vesely, calling the current same-time start for all Kyrene schools “a very inefficient model.”
It’s not only the districts Vesely has worked in that have the staggered schedules. Tempe Elementary has such a schedule as well. Mesa Public Schools also staggers its times for elementary schools, from 7:45 a.m.-2:15 p.m. and 8:25 a.m.-2:55 p.m.
Chandler Unified staggers times by category – elementary, middle and high school – but schools within those categories start and end classes at the same time.
“The only way we can invest in schools is by finding savings in the district, and this is an inefficient system in terms of savings,” Vesely said. “We have to look for things and we’re trying to keep cuts away from anything that has to do with the classroom.”
Vesely noted that the district also might be able to solve a nagging problem – having enough bus drivers.
Kyrene and many other districts in Arizona have been having trouble filling those jobs because they don’t offer enough hours. Fewer, consolidated routes would mean more hours for drivers and make Kyrene more competitive with other districts in the fight for a sufficient number of drivers, the district has asserted.
The shortage is so severe, Vesely said, that garage supervisors and mechanics have to man school buses.
The district has surveyed parents, offering two proposals and showing what schools would be affected by what start times.
One plan would start all Ahwatukee elementary schools at either 7:30 a.m. or 8:10 a.m. and the three Ahwatukee middle schools at 7:45 a.m. or 8:25 a.m. Kyrene campuses in Tempe and Chandler would have later start and finish times. That plan would save $900,000, the district said.
The bigger savings would be achieved by starting and ending classes at all the Ahwatukee campuses at later times.
The school day has to end later at middle schools under any plan because the state requires more instructional hours.
Vesely said “we tested the waters” with parent groups prior to the survey.
“About two thirds of them are willing to change and about a third of them say, ‘No, don’t touch it like it, just where it is right.’”
Vesely also ran the plan before her other advisory groups – including business leaders, teachers and students themselves – with similarly mixed results.
Results from the survey – which drew both parents and some nonparents – showed the option with later start times in Ahwatukee schools edged out both the early-start and no-change options.
But while 2,142 of all respondents picked the option with later starts and finishes, 2,172 also picked it as “my last choice.”
Social media has been buzzing about the proposal.
Some parents expressed concern over the impact on their household, especially when they have older children in high school with entirely different class times.
Others are concerned about the impact on their children who are in after-school activities – particularly those not connected to the school their children attend.
“My daughter starts dance at 3:45,” one post lamented. “We can’t be 45 minutes late every day and she already gets out at 8 p.m. This would force tough choices.”
Another parent said early starts would benefit parents with special-needs children.
”Earlier end times are helpful for families of special needs students,” the poster said. “It is very hard to find therapy times after 4 p.m. Later end times mean that families usually only have one or two spots available to them if their therapists stop working at 5 p.m.”
That same post also noted that “a 4 p.m. or later end time can restrict students’ participation in other opportunities in sports, theatre, music, classes, etc. available in the community. End times have always been our biggest concern as a family.”
Vesely in a Dec. 20 letter to parents said if a shift in times is approved, “we will ensure that families have opportunities for high quality Community Education before and after school.”
She also said a change might “open up new opportunities” and that teachers would be encouraged to engage in those programs for extra pay.
Some posts lamented the absence of more complete budget information to show whether there are any alternative budget moves that could achieve similar savings without the household disruption.
“We can only help the district make the best choice for budget cuts when we understand what those cuts will help save or improve as far as staff, programs or safety to name a few,” one post stated.
Added another: “A survey asking parents to choose an option without any other budget context only reflects the wishes of those parents as it relates to transportation and start times.”
“However, both parents likely prefer their children’s education be the best quality in the safest possible environment,” that post continued. “We need to know if we choose an option, how that impacts the rest of our children’s education.”
There likely will be more financial and other information available when the school board formally considers the proposals at its Jan. 22 meeting.
And while some also wondered whether this would affect overall enrollment in the district – a big concern for Kyrene and most public school officials because of competition from charters – at least one poster doubted it would have any impact.
“I don’t think it will affect open enrollment no matter which option is chosen,” the poster said. “The last time schedules changed everyone adapted, including those who protested the proposed changes. They will this time too.”