Manatee County School Board wants community input on school start times

BRADENTON -- After hearing from school officials, the Manatee County School Board plans to survey parents and community stakeholders on potentially changing school start times.

The recommendation comes from a body of research that shows students, particularly those in high school and middle school, may perform better academically and be more attentive if class starts after 8:30 in the morning.

Staff will create a survey to gauge how community stakeholders feel about three different options: leaving school start times alone, flipping when the elementary schools and high schools start and pushing back all school start times by 30 minutes.

"Before we can do anything I'd want to get input from users of the system," board chair Bob Gause said. "It would be interesting to see."

Three Manatee County high schools now start instruction at 7:30 a.m. and three start at 7:45 a.m. All six traditional high schools let out at 2:05 p.m. Elementary schools run from 8:30 a.m. to 2:50 p.m. and middle schools run from 9:20 a.m. to 3:40 p.m.

Any decision making is hampered by a number of factors, but transportation may be the biggest logistical factor for the district to consider, said executive director of secondary education Ryan Saxe.

"This is the biggest rock we have to consider," Saxe said.

The district does not have enough buses to transport elementary, middle and high schools all at once, said Jason Harris, the director of transportation. To buy enough buses and hire enough drivers to do that all at once, would cost more than $35 million.

"Next," board member Charlie Kennedy said.

Leaving school start times alone would have no substantial impact on transportation. Pushing all start times back 30 minutes would also not have a substantial impact on the transportation budget, but Harris said traffic patterns and routes would have to be re-examined.

Flipping elementary and high school start times may have an impact on the transportation personnel and equipment needs, and Harris told board members he would report back on those options.

"I'm convinced that flipping wouldn't work but pushing it a half an hour or keeping it the same are what I see as the most likely options," board member Dave Miner said.

Gause said he remembers the district surveyed the community a little more than 5 years ago about potentially flipping high school and elementary start times and the results were "ambivalent." He said he'd like to see an updated survey.

Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twittercface fontname="Regular" naxe="0" iaxis="0"/>

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