Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Pender board members backpedal on vote for three-tier bus schedule

Pender County Schools reversed course on a plan to stagger school start times to alleviate bus transportation. (Port City Daily/Amy Passaretti)

PENDER COUNTY — A local school board has reversed its decision to implement a new school schedule four days before it was to be set in stone.

READ MORE: New bell schedule adds 7 more learning days to Pender school year

In a unanimous decision, the Pender County Board of Education voted Monday to delay enacting a three-tiered bell schedule to the 2024-2025 school year. Last week, June 13 —  10 days before the deadline to update the school’s scheduling system — the board voted 3-1 to follow a staggered schedule to begin next year. 

The goal is to alleviate double bus routes and traffic congestion, thus reducing time students spend in route to school. 

However, board member Phil Cordeiro, who voted for the schedule, requested a special meeting to reconsider the decision after parent pushback.

Board member Don Hall, who was the sole dissenting vote last week, brought forth the motion to reverse the board’s decision. Choosing between five options, the board voted to stagger bell times from 7:15 a.m. to 8:52 a.m., but not add any extra time to the end of the day, resulting in the need for seven additional instructional days.

The move would have eliminated two and half days from winter break and added more days to the end of the year. The differing start times were unpopular among parents, many of whom drop their children off on their way to work. 

Hall’s motion was seconded by Cordeiro, although neither member spoke during Monday’s discussion prior to a vote. Both said the district should collect more parent feedback and directed staff to further explore both the negative and positive implications of changing the schedule. 

“The process that creates our final solution is just as important as the solution itself,” Cordeiro said. 

At last week’s meeting, Cordeiro said he was concerned with the number of instructional assistants doing double duty driving buses. Half of the assistants are also drivers, with half of them  saying they would choose not to drive if given an option, according to a district survey. The new bell schedule would alleviate responsibility from the assistants and allow the district to hire five more full-time drivers. 

While Cordeiro voted for the new bell schedule on Tuesday, an email obtained by Port City Daily shows the board member had changed his mind by Wednesday. He said district’s staff presentation was confusing, full of first-time information (four new bell schedule options) and missing critical pieces of information (earliest bus pick-up times, how seven days would be added to the calendar).

“I must admit I was still feeling caught off-guard and was also impacted by Mr. Springer’s motion to approve option D, and Ms. Burns’s second to that motion,” Cordeiro wrote. “I respect both of them, and was swayed by their arguments in the moment.”

Another board member, Brent Springer, also indicated he didn’t support Tuesday’s decision, despite making the motion to choose option D. 

On Wednesday, June 14, a Facebook poll was posted by an anonymous member in the 3,000-plus group Concerned Parents of Hampstead/Surf City Voicing Their Concerns. It asked if people were for or against the new schedule; 101 out of 122 people voted against it — including Springer. 

The board member asked several questions on Monday, including if the district could streamline its hiring of bus drivers and how the district will measure the success of the new plan, but made no attempt to reverse the decision. 

Beth Burns, who also voted for the new schedule last week, asked about which days would be transformed into instructional days. In previous meetings, she encouraged the board to make a decision as soon as possible to allow staff the time to make changes before June 23. 

The unanimous vote took place after Pender County Schools Superintendent Brad Breedlove defended the three-tier schedule. 

“I believe this is the right move for our district,” Breedlove said during Monday’s special called meeting.

Since taking charge of the district Jan. 1, he said the main problem has been transportation. Like many other districts, Pender County is experiencing a shortage of drivers, resulting in some employees having to run double or even triple routes. 

Previous PCD reporting noted the district has 12 routes where a bus driver is making double runs, particularly affecting elementary and middle schools. In effect, it leaves students waiting at schools for classes to start or arriving home later at the end of the day.

A study from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction indicated the path to improving the district’s efficiency was through a staggered schedule. 

Now the district will have another year before it finds out if that’s true.

Reach journalist Brenna Flanagan at brenna@localdailymedia.com 

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