ALBEMARLE — After difficulty with bus driver hiring and scheduling, Stanly County Schools are moving forward with a plan to stagger pick up and drop off times. This plan, approved by the Stanly Board of Education, would mean pushing back the start time for a number of schools, mostly middle and elementary schools.
At the May 7 BOE meeting, parents and teachers expressed concerns about the impact this plan could have.
During the citizen comment period, the mother of Melissa Zaleski, who owns Melissa Kathleen School of Dance, read a statement from her daughter on how the staggered times would be a hardship on her business because her students “feed from nearly every single school in Stanly County.” She believes with students finishing school at different times each day, it would make it difficult to provide for those leaving school later.
“There’s no shame in admitting when you’re wrong,” she finished. “I ask you to reconsider.”
An elementary school teacher, who also has three students at Stanly County schools, asked the board to consider looking at the experience of surrounding school systems, like Cabarrus County and Kannapolis, who are going back to earlier start times after experimenting with later times.
Dr. Jeff James, superintendent of Stanly County Schools, responded later that Kannapolis, after moving their late start time back from 3:45 to 3:15 p.m., had to have middle and high school students on the same bus, and many parents weren’t happy about that either, so “there’s always a tradeoff.”
Matt Thomas, the administrator of Parents Against Stanly County Staggered Start Times, said he wanted the board to overturn their decision for the staggered start times and said his group was “543 members strong.”
Thomas said, “We believe this could be detrimental to our children, their parents’ jobs and some of our local economy.”
“I do appreciate those who brought concerns to us, and I want to tell you, no decision in life is not going to have pluses and minuses, no matter what we do,” Dr. James said.
James said the main reason they had to consider staggered scheduling is they have 15 open bus driver positions in both morning and afternoon and an addition eight or nine routes just in the morning or afternoon, affecting over 750 kids in all. He encouraged parents to go to the Stanly County Schools website where there is a “ton of information” on the plan.
Two teachers who took a trip to Wake County on a fact-finding mission presented their findings to the board. About 35 percent of elementary schools in Wake have a start time of 8:45 a.m. and the county has been staggering times for 15 years.
The teachers met with three principals from elementary schools who are on the tiered schedule and with key county administrators. Their main takeaway was that the before and after school “enrichment” programs needed very competent, enthusiastic coordinators to run them.
Parents can send their children to school early or have them stay late so their work schedules wouldn’t be inconvenienced by the new change. In Wake County, these programs cost families a monthly fee, but in Stanly County they would be free of charge.
“If they can do it in Wake County, we can do it here,” one of the teachers concluded.
Now that the fact-finding trip to Wake County is done, Dr. James said “the ball is rolling” and there will be a task force to start implementing plans. A brochure will soon go out to local businesses that could be affected.
The biggest part, according to Dr. James, is making sure the routes are designed efficiently. A consultant was in town at the time of the meeting and was going to meet with the superintendent to begin work on this task.
The change would allow bus drivers to move from part time to full time and to have health and retirement benefits. The board believes this will make the positions more attractive and also require fewer drivers.