Thursday, July 18, 2024

‘Back to the drawing board’: No changes made to Pender schools bell schedule

Pender County Schools buses (Port City Daily/Amy Passaretti)

PENDER COUNTY — A local school board’s ongoing bell schedule discussion continues to stall.

On Tuesday, Pender County Schools Board unanimously decided to evaluate further options regarding a new district bell schedule. The discussion — and vote — has flip-flopped now for eight months. 

A three-tier bell schedule was first approved in June of 2023, but then rejected four days later due to parent pushback. 

The Pender County Schools’ Chief Officer of Auxiliary Services Michael Taylor presented a three-tier bell schedule system to the board of education that would reduce current strains on the district’s transportation system. The schools are currently facing a shortage in bus drivers, resulting in drivers running triple and double routes for multiple schools in the district to transport students. 

Changing the bell schedule will stagger the amount of students that take the bus, thus alleviating the amount of routes bus drivers would have to take

Parents disagreed with the first vote last year, which passed 3-1 and then was rescinded so staff could survey parents and do further research for the 2024-2025 school year.

Earlier this month, a three-tier schedule change proposal was once again recommended to the school board. Three options were given but Tuesday they decided against going with any, despite staff’s recommendation to have middle schools start at 7:30 a.m., elementary kids to follow at 8:15 a.m. and high school at 9 a.m. Release times would be 2:30 p.m., 3:15 p.m. and 4 p.m., respectively. 

The district is running 19 double routes in the morning and 21 double routes in the afternoon. Taylor said 14 double routes would be eliminated with the implementation of the new bell schedule. The district currently requires teaching assistants to serve as bus drivers as well and a new schedule would allow the district to rely on them less.

“We don’t have any other option other than doubles if we don’t move to a different bell-tier schedule,” Taylor said in the Tuesday meeting. “Doubles that take 30 to 40 minutes, I would like to see us eliminate those, I think parents would like to see us eliminate those as well, based on the concerns that have been shared with me for the last two years.” 

Previously, parents expressed frustration regarding the incongruence among start times for their multiple students attending different district schools. They are also worried the schedule would make bus pick-ups too early or too late. Other conflicts include interference with CFCC class scheduling, timing of middle school athletics, and the need for more afternoon childcare.

Board members expressed concerns surrounding the PACES program Tuesday. The afternoon school program would have to run later to accommodate the later drop-off times but also could result in an influx of students. Taylor ensured the board that the district has enough employees and space for expansion of PACES, which would need to be addressed amidst the new bell schedule. 

In addition to the reduction in double routes, goals of the new bell schedule would have included more timely transportation, protection of in-classroom instructional time, reduced traffic and increased employment of more full-time bus drivers. A new bell schedule could overall increase district efficiency and result in increased state funding. 

At the end of the meeting, a unanimous vote was made by board members in favor of staff developing different options that would include a unified bell schedule, in effect rejecting the proposed three-tier bell schedule.  

“My amendment would be to direct staff to develop further options to include unified bell schedules for K-8 campuses and then also the option for variations between the east and the west (portions of the county),” board member Brent Springer said. 

The amendment was seconded by board member Phil Cordeiro.

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Shea Carver
Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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