Scores of Kyrene parents will be scrambling to adjust their household routines next school year after the governing board last week voted 4-1 to adopt a new “bell schedule” that alters start and dismissal times at the district’s 25 campuses.
While board member Michelle Fahy voted against the new schedule, she joined her four colleagues in approving two other measures aimed at saving a little over $2 million that will be diverted into other programs.
One of those measures increases from 120 to 150 the number of students that about 20 percent of middle school teachers see in a day while other teachers would see their overall student load decrease from 180 to 150. The other measure cuts the 75 percent tuition discount that 222 district employees were getting to put their kids in Kyrene Community Education programs before and after school.
While the administration made some tweaks in the proposals to soften their impact on parents and teachers, two parents begged the board at its Jan. 22 meeting to postpone a vote on the new schedule.
The schedule calls for a 7:35 a.m. start and 2:35 p.m. dismissal for some elementary schools and an 8:55 a.m. start and 3:55 p.m. finish for the rest of the elementary schools.
The 7:35 a.m.-2:35 p.m. day will be in force at Brisas, Cielo, Cerritos, Colina, Esperanza, Mariposa, Mirada, Monte Vista, Paloma, Sierra and Wagoner elementary schools and Kyrene Traditional Academy.
All middle schools will start at 8:15 a.m. and finish at 3:15 p.m.
Early dismissals on Wednesdays will be 12:35 p.m. for the schools with the earliest start, 1:15 p.m. for the middle schools and 1:55 p.m. for the rest of the elementary schools.
The change means that instead of saving $1.2 million, the district now projects a savings of $700,000.
Moreover, district officials said, it will help address a bus driver shortage that Kyrene and many other districts in the state are grappling with.
That shortage is playing out in many ways, officials said.
“Our driver trainers or mechanics are supervisors and really anyone in our transportation department that has a commercial driver’s license is required to fill in and drive on a daily basis in order to fill the gap because of our bus drivers shortage. And that really means that we don’t have time in those, in those other areas and the activities that they need to do, um, they’re not really taking place that they, they need to,” said Kyrene Chief Financial Officer Chris Hermann.
Superintendent Jan Vesely noted that as it is, “many parents have experienced significant bus delays because bus drivers have had to go back and double back because we were so short of drivers.”
By creating two sets of start and finish times for the district, administration officials said, Kyrene will be able to make routes more efficient as well as add hours to drivers’ day – making the position more attractive as the district competes with other districts for qualified drivers.
The administration said that out of Kyrene’s approximate 17,000 students, about 5,300 use buses while the rest either walk to and from school or get rides from their parents or others.
Two parents told board members the schedule would bring chaos to their households while another told AFN it also will create hardship for some teachers who have second jobs after school.
“I can’t think of any working family that’s going to be able to start their kid off at 8:55 and then make it to work at 9:30 and have a normal life,” said Michael Heinrich, whose daughter attends Lagos Elementary in Ahwatukee, one of the schools with the latest start. “I know you’ve probably considered this and heard hundreds of parents say the same thing, but I’m just not getting the vibe that, that was considered.”
Board members indicated they received about 100 emails related to the changes, and apparently some suggested different approaches.
Heinrich said the schedule will force him to pay tuition for a before-school program “that I didn’t want,” adding:
“Now I have to pay to have less time with my daughter and I still have to try to find time to do homework to eventually get her into gymnastics or whatever she wants to do. And that time’s not there.”
Parent Lisa Lance said her two sons are in two different elementary schools and that the new bell schedule meant that “my children who attend schools less than three miles apart from each other would be starting an hour and 20 minutes apart.
“This is going to create all kinds of issues for my family as we will have increased childcare costs,” Lance added. “It will make it difficult for our children to attend appointments and we’ll possibly have to miss instructional minutes in order to make those appointments. And it will be an added burden on my husband’s and my work schedule.”
Lance also questioned why one of her sons could not get bus service while the district buses kids in from Maricopa and south Phoenix.
Anne Marie Hawk told AFN that in light of the Legislature’s action last year that raised teacher pay by 10 percent, the new bell schedule constituted “a step back within our district – more hours, less pay.”
Hawk, who has two children in Kyrene schools and three others who graduated from them, said she worried about the impact it will have on teachers who work second jobs, mentioning a teacher who is a single mom of two kids who teaches a gym class several times a week to earn about $450 extra a week.
With the later dismissal, Hawk said, that teacher stands to lose nearly two thirds of that income because she won’t be able to make one of her three-day-a-week classes because she’ll get off work at school later.
Fahy also expressed concern with the schedule.
“I just wonder if there are additional refinements that we could make, um, that would, um, reduce the amount of disruption this would cause on a lot of families, a lot of staff and families,” Fahy said.
Referring to the programs that would be funded from the savings the district achieves from all three measures, Fahy said she felt uneasy about the disruptions in light of the fact that “we’re spending more money on stuff like curriculum that we haven’t seen yet.”
Board member John King said, “There’s no popular answer and that’s the challenge that we have. If we leave everything like it is, we’re going to have some real issues with bus drivers.”
“It’s very concerning to me because of the safety of the kids that we don’t have bus drivers we can count on,” King added.
Board President Michael Myrick noted that the district needed a decision because it still has considerable work ahead in building the 2019-20 budget and rejected suggestions the administration develop more options for the board’s review.
“We have asked this team to go back to the drawing board several times,” Myrick said. “I don’t want to get to option Z. If we’re at option Z, that means we failed as a board. I understand it’s not going to make everybody happy, but my job as a board member is to look after what the best interest is of the Kyrene kids and the Kyrene community and if 11,700 of them (students) are either walking or going to parent pickup, then I think we have a fiduciary responsibility to look at ways we can save money.”
The new schedule also adds 10 minutes to the school day – which teacher Amanda Rock said was never mentioned when the district presented the proposed schedule changes to several teacher groups last fall.
“As it is, teachers are already working past their contracted hours to plan and prepare for excellent student lessons and learning,” Rock said. “This extended instructional time which has been taken away, which has been taken away from our morning preparation time, may negatively impact students in the long run. I will also add that in Kyrene, our students already received well over the state minimum requirements for instructional minutes.”
Though not as controversial, the middle school staffing changes also generated some debate.
Currently, middle school teachers of core subjects see 120 students over five periods while electives teachers have 180 over six periods. Those core teachers – about 20 percent of the middle school faculty – also have an extra period for planning purposes.
But the district said that created inequities among teaching staff and was also too costly. So, next year, all teachers will have 150 students over five periods. Classroom size will not be affected, officials said.
Acknowledging the staffing change addresses a long-term inequity among teachers, Fahy said:
“It is going to make their job harder. They’re going to have 30 more families to communicate with. They’re going to have 30 more kiddos to get to know and understand and appreciate each one of their special gifts. And it, it’s just 30 new names to learn.”
The board also unanimously approved a two-year reduction in the discount that all district employees receive on tuition for Kyrene’s Community Education programs before and after school.
About 222 employees had been receiving a 75 percent tuition discount – at a taxpayer cost of $400,000 annually. Next school year that discount will be cut to 60 percent, costing taxpayers about $200,000, and then cut to 45 percent in 2021-22 – a “cost neutral” position for taxpayers.
Vesely said that one of the biggest issues the cost-saving measures will enable the district to address is the gaps in student achievement while another major one involves equity in student performance and discipline.
About $1.2 million of the savings will be used to hire counselors and social workers for elementary school students as part of the new “social-emotional learning” that is aimed at making students develop self-sufficiency and personal responsibility at an earlier age so that they can achieve better academic performance in later grades.
The administration also will be using some of the savings for increased intervention help for students struggling in math and English Language Arts and to enhance diversity, equity and inclusion in the district through more professional development classes for teachers.
The equity issues have been raised by African-American parents at several board meetings.
They point to lower test scores among minority students and also say Black students receive harsher punishment than white students for the same offenses.
Money in this area will be spent on professional development and other training for teachers and principals.