The board has proposed altering the starting times at 13 Pinellas elementary schools, posing challenges for parents.
By KELLY RYAN
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 7, 2000
Susan Gonsalves and her neighbors share morning driving duties to Pinellas Park Elementary School so they can get to work on time and their children can get to school safely.
Under a plan the Pinellas School Board will consider Tuesday, 13 elementary schools around the county might start at different times in 2000-2001. For Gonsalves and other Pinellas Park elementary parents, school could start 55 minutes later than it does now.
And that could throw the morning car pool into disarray.
"If school starts at 9:40, you're going to be talking about a lot of people losing their jobs," Gonsalves said. "It's a major inconvenience to change the times. You can't work your job around your children's school."
In Pinellas County, school start times are staggered in three tiers so the same fleet of buses can carry all students. Invariably, the third tier is the most dreaded because school starts and ends so late.
All high schools start at 7:20 a.m. Most middle schools start at 9:40 a.m. (That's the dreaded third tier.)
Most elementary schools are in the second tier, starting at 8:45 a.m. and ending at 2:45 p.m. But some elementaries -- seven this year -- occupy the last tier because of the complicated scheduling of buses.
Every four years, elementary schools on the third tier are given the chance to switch. That means other elementaries have to take their place.
That's what's happening now.
Of the seven elementaries on the third tier, only one -- Ridgecrest in Largo -- wanted to stick with the 9:40 a.m. start time for next year. The other six -- Fuguitt, Bardmoor, Brooker Creek, Sawgrass, Southern Oak and Sutherland -- asked to start earlier.
To accommodate their requests, the district is proposing to adjust seven other elementaries. Kings Highway would open earlier, at 7:50 a.m., but six schools would open later, at 9:40 a.m.: Cypress Woods, Lakewood, Orange Grove, Pinellas Park, Starkey and Walsingham.
Four other elementaries were adjusted slightly, to start at 8:30 a.m., to accommodate their early release day. Those schools are Bauder, Frontier, Maximo and Rawlings.
"Every time we make a decision to change, it requires somebody to adjust," said Michael Fleming, the district's director of transportation.
For the schools leaving the third tier, the proposal is a blessing.
"It's fabulous news," said Linda Nore, principal of Bardmoor Elementary in Seminole. "But it hasn't passed. All the teachers will be sending out little vibes, "Vote for this! Vote for this!' "
But for the schools entering the third tier, it seems like a curse.
A handful of parents and some teachers at Walsingham Elementary in Largo have complained about the change from 7:50 a.m. to 9:40 a.m. to principal William Nordmark.
"I really liked the early hours," Nordmark said, adding: "We'll live with it."
Any time the School Board talks about messing with school opening times, it's controversial. And as the district learned from a recent survey about the issue, it's impossible to please everyone.
About 57,000 people responded to the survey. Forty percent wanted major change, 40 percent didn't want any change and the rest were receptive to minor tweaking. The survey was the district's response to research showing that high school students are naturally late risers.
After a discussion, School Board members decided not to endorse widespread changes -- at least not now. They asked for more information so they can consider collapsing the three-tiered system into just two tiers, but they weren't interested in exploring that until fall 2003. That's the same time the district will begin a dramatically different system of assigning students to schools.
For the 2000-2001 school year, about a dozen middle schools asked to start earlier. And about seven high schools asked to start a bit later. Those requests were denied because of the board's decision to hold off on major schedule changes.
Carwise Middle School in Palm Harbor has asked for years for an earlier start time because middle school pupils are more productive in the early morning. The school's request has always been turned down, so principal John Leanes wasn't surprised it was denied again.
"I think we're past the point of being disappointed about it," Leanes said. "It would be a luxury for us to be granted the middle time or the early time."
The School Board meeting begins at 1 p.m. Tuesday at district headquarters, 301 Fourth St. SW in Largo. Residents can address board members on this issue.
The Pinellas School District is proposing that opening times change at 13 elementary schools in 2000-2001. This is a list of the proposed changes, which the School Board will consider Tuesday.
Kings Highway 7:50-1:50
Brooker Creek 8:45-2:45
Southern Oak 8:45-2:45
Cypress Woods 9:40-3:40
Orange Grove 9:40-3:40
Pinellas Park 9:40-3:40