Greenfield school start times remain unresolved as board reconsiders costs

Jan. 22, 2013

Greenfield - While some hoped that the Greenfield School Board would decide on Monday whether to have Greenfield High School start later and three other schools start earlier, the board instead called for updated cost estimates associated with the change.

The board, which will likely discuss the issue again at its Feb. 11 meeting, wants to know if the $210,000 cost that was estimated in 2011 for the high school to start 35 minutes later and two elementary schools and the middle school to start earlier would still be valid for the 2013-14 school year.

Cost information also will be gathered on the high school starting 30 minutes later, but leaving the other school start times alone.

About six years ago, the high school went to a 7:10 a.m. start time to save money. Parents asked the board to reconsider its decision, and an ad hoc committee was formed. It eventually recommended a later high school start time and adjusting start times in some other schools. The committee said educational research shows that high school students do better if school starts later and that elementary students do better if school starts earlier.

The board turned the recommendations down mainly because of the $210,000 cost.

Renewed calls for a later high school start time came because of disappointment that the high school students didn't do better on the state's new academic testing program. If the students would do better with a later start, the expenditure is justified, some said.

But others are skeptical.

Board member Don Carlson said remarks by a resident teacher that night resonated with him.

Cindy Sibley, a special education teacher with the Greenfield schools, said the $210,000 could be better spent elsewhere. There are no more social workers and kids are coming to school with more and more issues, she said.

One guidance counselor at a middle school of 800 students is absurd, Sibley said. The school stands little chance of dealing with bullying and fighting, she added.

Sibley also suggested that paying to have a police officer in the middle school as a liaison officer would be money well spent. Help is needed to teach English to 34 students who have moved into the district, she said.

"With $200,000, we could meet a lot of students' needs," Sibley said.

Carlson said the board should talk about those issues.

Board member Cathy Walsh, who strongly favors a later high school start time, agreed that all those other issues need to be addressed, but so does start times as it pertains to academic performance. She acknowledged that she originally voted to move the start time earlier, but now feels that was a mistake.

For the Feb. 11 review, Carlson said he also wants to know how many students are tardy in districts with later high school start times.

Greenfield High had more than 9,600 instances of tardiness in the last school year, said Delores Skowronek, chairwoman of the ad hoc committee that recommended a later start.

A resident who also spoke Monday said he counted only 160 students who were habitually tardy. Spending $210,000 for that many students doesn't make sense, he said.

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