St. Petersburg Times Online: Business

Weather | Sports | Forums | Comics | Classifieds | Calendar | Movies

Schools to swap start times next year

Parents aren't fully satisfied with a decision that shifts an "undesirable" 7:40 a.m. beginning from one elementary school to another.

Published May 26, 2005

EAST LAKE - Cypress Woods Elementary School parents who begged the Pinellas County School Board for a later start time have gotten their wish, but at the expense of Brooker Creek Elementary School.

School Board members voted Tuesday night to change Cypress Woods' start time to 8:40 a.m., an hour later than it was this year.

To make that happen, however, they said they would have to move Brooker Creek's start time an hour earlier, from 8:40 to 7:40 a.m. Giving both schools the same starting times would have added transportation costs estimated at $460,000 to $500,000, superintendent Clayton Wilcox told board members.

The change came over the protest of at least a dozen Brooker Creek parents who learned about the proposal shortly before the meeting and asked to keep their existing start time.

Earlier this month, Cypress Woods parents pleaded to the School Board for a later time. After years of having an "undesirable" time, they said they deserved to have their morning bell changed to 8:40 a.m. They were particularly upset because Cypress Woods' proximity to East Lake High School, which dismisses its students at approximately the same time as the elementary school, made a 1:40 p.m. dismissal unsafe, they said.

Tuesday night, Brooker Creek parents pointed out that their school is even closer to East Lake High.

"It's horrendous," said parent Denay McLaughlin, whose three daughters attend Brooker Creek. "We, as parents, do not drive on the road when the high school kids get out because you take your life in your hands."

Parents from the two schools took care not to attack each other. No elementary school, they said, should start so early.

Two Cypress Woods parents said Brooker Creek's start time should not be changed to accommodate Cypress Woods. McLaughlin said the School Board should switch Cypress Woods' start time with an elementary school that does not have a high school nearby.

Brooker Creek parents were particularly disturbed that Wilcox's assistant had e-mailed a parent on May 18 saying that, at that time, he had determined there would be no change in the school's starting time for the 2005-06 school year.

Wilcox said he had been handed a memo just before Tuesday's meeting that said many Brooker Creek parents would not be there because they had received information that the time change would not take effect until the 2006-07 school year. But he said he knew many parents were aware the item was on Tuesday night's agenda because he had talked with them.

School Board member Nancy Bostock said the idea of trading one school off for another showed "poor decisionmaking practices" and created "a huge waste of resources" for the district.

Board member Linda Lerner agreed that the process "was not what it needed to be" and said it was a difficult decision. After about an hour's discussion, the board voted 5-2 to approve the changes, with Bostock and Mary Brown voting against the time change.

On Wednesday morning, Brooker Creek principal Nell Chapman sent out an automated message to parents informing them of the change. Chapman, who had told district administrators that she opposed the change for her school, said "it's too bad that it couldn't have been brought up earlier."

"It's kind of late to do this," Chapman said. "But as far as the school is concerned, we'll do what we always do: We'll make plans, we'll make sure it's an environment for children and we'll start school in the fall."

Jay and Susan Fakterowitz of Lansbrook, who will have a daughter, Alexa, in second grade at Brooker Creek next fall, learned of the change Wednesday.

Jay Fakterowitz said he is concerned about early morning traffic created by East Lake High students. Children will be waiting for buses and walking to school when the older students are on the road. He thinks the Bryan Lane intersection near the high school is a particular problem.

"Basically, they are just shifting the problem to Brooker Creek kids," he said. "They are not correcting the problem."

© Copyright, St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.