By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor
Proposed changes to the Madison-Plains school calendar, including shorter days and new daily start and stop times, prompted many comments and concerns from district parents.
Superintendent Tim Dettwiller outlined the proposed changes at the Feb. 17 school board meeting. They relate to the 2015-16 school calendar and include:
- Starting school on Aug. 17 and ending on May 19. This year, school started on Aug. 26 and will end on June 2. The change would take the total number of student days for the school year from 172 to 176.
- Shortening spring break from five missed school days to four. Spring break 2016 is tentatively set for March 23-28.
- Changing the school day’s start and stop times. Currently, all students in kindergarten through 12th grade attend school from 7:50 a.m. to 3:10 p.m. Dettwiller proposes changing the hours for grades 7-12 to 7:30 a.m. to 2:40 p.m., and the hours for grades K-6 to 8:40 a.m. to 3:35 p.m., necessitating double bus routes.
With the change, the older students would be in class 400 minutes per day (1,172 hours per year). The younger students would be in class 385 minutes per day (1,128 hours per year). Currently, all students are in class 410 minutes per day (1,173 hours per year).
Dettwiller said one of the main reasons he is proposing the different school hours is to shorten bus ride times for students. Some students who live on the outskirts of the district spend nearly 75 minutes on the bus each way. By staggering the school day, he foresees the buses making fewer stops, which would make for shorter ride times.
Dettwiller said he hopes that shorter ride times would prevent families from open enrolling their students in other school districts.
“We want to increase our enrollment. We’re losing 150 kids a year from the edges of our district to other schools. We think one reason is the ride time,” he said. As a result, the district is losing $1 million per year in state funding.
Other benefits to the time changes, he said, would include a reduction in student burn-out, time for athletes to get to their events, a reduction in transportation costs, and a reduction in behavior issues. On the negative side, he said, the changes would increase wear and tear on buses and reduce students’ academic contact time.
After presenting his proposal, Dettwiller opened the floor to the audience to make comments.
Julie Wight, a mother of an elementary school student and an intermediate school student, said the time change would be bad for families with working parents. Parents who leave for work between 7 and 9 a.m. would still have to get their children up early, she said. As a result, she predicts more families would put their children on the bus than before. Also, the new times would leave high schoolers with more unsupervised time in the afternoons until their parents get home from work and require young children to get themselves on the bus on their own in the mornings. Many parents would need to find babysitters for their children before and after school, she said, adding to their personal costs.
Kelly Spring, whose son is at the elementary school, likes the idea of a shorter school day because it would give students more family time and allow them to more easily fit extracurriculars, like sports, into their schedules.
Megan Holbert, who has one child at the junior high and one at the high school, favors the proposed time changes because high schoolers would get home earlier and older and younger students wouldn’t be on buses together.
Jennifer McCoy, who has children at the elementary and intermediate schools, prefers the longer school day, saying the academic time is important. Instead of staggering start times, she suggests adding more buses to reduce crowding and ride times.
Nicole Bevington, who has two children at the high school, said academic time should outweigh any other factor. She does not like the idea of reducing the amount of time students are in the classroom.
Several other parents spoke up, as well. Dettwiller said anyone is welcome to send comments and suggestions to him via email at email@example.com. He said he will take all of the feedback into consideration to put together a formal proposal to present to the board for a possible vote at its next regular meeting, set for 7 p.m. March 17.
The board also will hold a special meeting at 7 p.m. March 10 to discuss contract negotiations, administrative organization for next school year, staff planning, and bussing. Anyone is welcome to address the board during the public participation portion of board meetings.
The March 10 and March 17 meetings will take place in the district meeting room at the elementary building.