23 Oct PUSD faces hurdles in moving schools to later start times
Poway Unified School District officials are facing some significant challenges as they prepare to comply with new California legislation mandating middle and high schools start later.
The new legislation SB 328, signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Oct. 13, requires public middle schools to begin classes at 8 a.m. or later and public high schools to start no earlier than 8:30 a.m. The new start times are to be implemented by the beginning of the 2022-23 school year.
The change will affect all of the district’s high schools and most of its middle schools. Though many schools have a single day a week where they start later, the other days begin before the newly mandated start times.
The realities of pushing school start times back are a little more complicated than just changing the times the bell rings, however.
Christine Paik, the district’s chief communications officer, said the district has already been preparing to implement the changes at the middle and high schools ahead of the state’s deadline, but anticipates facing several logistical challenges with transportation, before and after school care and extracurricular activities.
“… Any time you have a mandated change like this in a K-12 unified district, there is a ripple effect. It doesn’t just affect secondary schools, but our 26 elementary sites as well,” said Paik.
The district is working now to put together models on how these changes will be implemented. No concrete details are available.
Tim Purvis, the district’s director of transportation, said district administration and staff are familiar with the legislation and have been watching and working with it for about a year.
One of the biggest logistical hurdles for the district will be transportation, he said.
The district uses a three-tiered bus schedule and staggered school start times to keep transportation expenses down and get the most use out of its buses and drivers. The schedule is engineered by a sophisticated routing software and allows a single driver to make two, sometimes three, trips in the morning and again in the afternoon in one bus, rather than needing more buses and drivers.
“Many years ago, we got very financially efficient (for transportation). We use the buses and staff for as many hours a day (as possible) to have fewer buses on the road,” said Purvis.
Schools fall into one of three tiers, Purvis said. Tier one schools start around 7:30 a.m., tier two start between 8:05 to 8:30 a.m. and tier three are later start schools, between 8:45 and 9 a.m.
For example, Poway High School and Meadowbrook Middle School, which start at 7:30 and 7:40 a.m., respectively, are tier one schools. Bernardo Heights Middle School, which begins at 8:30 a.m., is a tier two school. Design 39 Campus, which begins classes at 8:50 a.m., is a tier three.
This tiered schedule allows a driver to drop off students at a tier one school 15 to 25 minutes before the first bell rings, then go and service a tier two school. A driver who drops students at Poway High School at 7:15 a.m. will then go and take students to Twin Peaks Middle School, which starts at 8:27 a.m. If the route is very efficient, a driver may even be able to then service a tier three school, said Purvis. This routine is then repeated in reverse in the afternoon.
Purvis said without the tiered schedule, the bus fleet would need to be one-third to one-half larger than it is now, but the buses and drivers would be used less often.
Pushing the start times of the middle and high schools back means swapping many of them to tier two or three, Purvis said. By necessity, many elementary schools would have to become tier one schools and start earlier to keep the schedule.
“We’re interested in maintaining the three tiers for efficiency, but not necessarily at the same times,” Purvis said. “We think we can maintain (transportation) efficiency, but it will likely affect every school in the district.”
Another significant issue — Purvis called it “the elephant in the corner” — is the issue of school athletics and other co-curricular activities.
The district’s transportation department gets 2,800 individual requests annually for activities trips, which take about 3,000 buses to fulfill (trips often require more than one bus, Purvis said).
Purvis said the district is very proud to support its students and about 95 percent of co-curricular activities trips are taken in PUSD buses with PUSD drivers. The other roughly 5 percent are on charter buses for longer trips.
“We feel (the students) are safest with our drivers,” he said.
PUSD drivers often handle these trips before and after the afternoon runs. If schools are getting out later to accommodate the later start times, it could mean those drivers are not available for athletics and activities.
“If we didn’t have that driver available, we would have to contract with a charter company, which would cost a lot more,” Purvis said.
Students getting out of class later will also mean athletics programs are pushed later in the evening, Purvis said.
“Everything will run later into the day because everything will start later,” he said.
The district will also have to ensure before and after school care is available for students to accommodate the new start times, as schools may now begin or get out during times when parents must be at work.
“Schedules don’t change for our community members,” said Todd Cassen, executive director of student support services.
Cassen said the district will need to take a very different look at the new model of later start times to make sure programs are in place to support students and their families. He also echoed Purvis’ concerns about field trips and athletics being effected.