MPS proposes changing school times

Minneapolis Public Schools is proposing changing starting and ending times at 20 schools for 2018-19, a move that would save up to $2 million in transportation costs.

The proposal would create more balance between the number of schools that start earlier in the morning, from approximately 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m., and the number that start later in the morning, from approximately 8:40 a.m. to 9:40 a.m. That balance would allow more drivers to do multiple runs in a morning, thereby saving the district money on fuel and maintenance.

“The more runs we can get with one bus, the more efficient the system is,” said MPS’ chief operations officer, Karen DeVet.

The proposal comes as the district grapples with a projected $33 million budget gap for 2018-19. The district doesn’t expect to have the reserve funds available to make up the gap, so Superintendent Ed Graff and his leadership team are considering structural changes.

The proposed bell-time changes would affect seven elementary schools, all seven MPS middle schools, four K-8 schools and two alternative schools. No high schools would see changes in starting and ending times. (MPS does not use school buses to transport high school kids who are in regular-education classes. High school students who are eligible for transportation receive Go-To Cards to use on Metro Transit.)

“We were looking to try to have the least impact to schools and families,” DeVet said in explaining the proposed changes.

Schools across the district would be affected, including five in what the district calls Zone 3, which includes most of Southwest Minneapolis. Those five are: Kenwood Elementary School (K-5), Jefferson Community School (K-8), Clara Barton Open School (K-8), Justice Page Middle School (6-8) and Anthony Middle School (6-8). Anwatin Middle School (6-8) and Bryn Mawr Elementary School (pre-K-5) would also be affected.

Seven of the affected schools, including Barton, Bryn Mawr and Anthony, would start between one hour and one hour and ten minutes later. Another nine, including Anwatin, Justice Page and Kenwood, would start between 30 and 40 minutes later. Three schools, including Jefferson, would start and end earlier, though the difference would only be 10 minutes for Jefferson (9:40 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.).

The change would mean a shorter school day for the seven middle schools. Currently each has a day length of between six hours and 55 minutes and seven hours and 20 minutes. The day length would be six hours and 30 minutes for each under the proposal, with each starting at 9:30 a.m. and ending at 4 p.m.

The district says the plan would mean less driver turnover and a more stable driver workforce. That would allow drivers to forge better relationships with students and would result in safer buses, it says.

The district added that the goal is to keep changes to starting and ending times to no more than one hour.

MPS owns about one-third of its buses and utilizes contractors for the remaining two-thirds, DeVet said. Its median annual cost for transportation per school is $494,000.

DeVet said the district has talked with the union representing the bus drivers in general about the proposal. She said she expects the proposal would allow some drivers to get more hours, adding that there is an industry-wide shortage of drivers.

Currently, there are 29 different start times for 68 schools. Twenty-one schools with regular-education busing have start times between 7:30 a.m. and 8:05 a.m but only six have start times after 9:30 a.m. As a result, MPS has 78 buses on the road earlier in the morning that aren’t needed later in the morning.

Last year, the district standardized high school start times to around 8 a.m., DeVet said. The change had a relatively small impact, and the district estimated it would save $400,000, DeVet said.

Asked if elementary schools could expect changes, DeVet said it would be premature to comment on additional changes, pending the outcome of MPS’ districtwide comprehensive assessment. The assessment is a study of the district’s programs, boundary zones, staffing levels, facilities utilization and more.

But DeVet did say more changes are likely.

MPS staff met with parent councils in coming up with the bell-time proposal. The district also convened an internal committee of department leaders and principals.

It is encouraging families who need to consider a new school option to work with the district’s Student Placement Services to find the best option. Choosing a new school can happen any time of year, but families will get their best options by submitting a school choice card by Feb. 17, the district says. Choice cards can be submitted online at schoolrequest.mpls.k12.mn.us.

Student Placement Services staff are available to help families navigate school options in person at the Davis Center, 1250 W. Broadway Ave., and the New Families Center, 3345 Chicago Ave. (enter through door no. 1). They’re also available by phone (668-1840 for Student Placement Services; 668-3700 for the New Families Center; 668-1842 for the Multilingual Department) and by email at sps.department@mpls.k12.mn.us.

District leaders will present their proposal to the School Board Finance Committee on Jan. 25. The board will hear an update on the overall 2018-19 budget recommendation on Feb. 13 and will review the budget in April or May. It will vote on a final 2018-19 budget in June.

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