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School Board approves elementary school start times

During a special called board of education meeting Monday evening, the Stanly County School Board passed a relatively close motion in favor of having a 7:15 a.m. start for four elementary schools next year and an 8:45 a.m. start time for six other elementary schools.

The two staggered start time options discussed only affect elementary schools. Both middle and high school start times, as well as Oakboro Choice STEM School, will stay the same.

Norwood Elementary, Badin Elementary, Endy Elementary and Locust Elementary would start at 7:15 a.m. and get out at 2:10 p.m.

At these early start schools, the doors would open at 6:45 a.m. and some form of academic enrichment would take place until school officially started at 7:15 a.m.

Richfield Elementary, Aquadale Elementary, East Albemarle Elementary, Central Elementary, Millingport Elementary and Stanfield Elementary would start at 8:45 a.m. and get out at 3:40 p.m.

At these later start schools, the doors would still open at 7:30 a.m.

The other staggered start time option was to have the early start time begin at 7 a.m. and the later start time begin at 8:30 a.m.

The underlying issue is bus driver shortages in Stanly County. The school system currently is 15 bus drivers short out of 86 total drivers. Many are going to other counties, such as Cabarrus, which offers full-time benefits.

“We are in the midst of an ongoing busing crisis due to the shortage of drivers,” Superintendent Dr. Jeff James said. He said this crisis is affecting school systems across the state.

Many teacher assistants, who are used to helping students, are often having to drive buses.

Either of the staggered school options would immediately reduce the need for drivers, dropping the total number of bus drivers needed from 86 to 66, James said.

A survey recently sent out to teachers at the 10 elementary schools that would be affected. James and the school board reviewed their responses when coming up with the start time options.

James said schools would partner with local daycares and after-school programs to coordinate dropping the students off at these places after school.

Two South Stanly High School teachers spoke about the need for all teachers, not just the ones in the elementary schools, to be surveyed about staggered school options.

Both teachers were concerned about the enrichment programs that would take place before and after school.

“I do not want my children sitting in the gym for an hour every day,” said teacher Meredith Howell. “This is a perfect opportunity for non-traditional physical education opportunities, foreign language exposure, academic enrichment, and life skills, all of which could benefit student growth.”

James said SCS could provide around $50,000 for the enrichment programs.

The school board was also split on the staggered start time issue.

Board member Jeff Chance offered a motion to table the issue for the upcoming school year, so SCS could further study the issue.

Board member Glenda Gibson agreed, saying she was disappointed that all SCS teachers were not surveyed.

“My concern is that we’re voting on something, but we still don’t have everything in place,” Gibson said.

She was concerned with elementary school students having to wait outside early in the morning for the buses due to the early start time.

“Whether we vote on the time of 7 or 7:15, we’ve got little children that are going to be picked up really early,” Gibson said.

Gibson also wanted to know if there was any alternative besides staggered start times that the board has explored, to which board member Anthony Graves replied the only alternative would be to give bus drivers a significant pay increase, which would still not make them full-time employees.

Graves did not want to wait a year to decide the issue. He recently read a Facebook post from a West Stanly High School parent who wrote that her student had to go around asking bus drivers if they could take him home because his specific bus driver wasn’t available.

Graves wanted to delay the staggered start time decision for a month in order to send surveys to all the teachers and then come up with a decision.

Chance’s motion failed, with only Gibson voting to support it.

The board continued to discuss the staggered school options until board member Patty Crump, who voiced concern that time was of the essence, offered a second motion to move forward with the county wide 7:15 a.m. elementary school start time and the 8:45 a.m. later start time. Though she wished more teachers were initially surveyed, time was too precious to spend creating another survey, she said.

The board passed Crump’s motion, with Chance and Gibson voting against it.

About Chris Miller

Chris Miller has been with the SNAP since January 2019. He is a graduate of NC State and received his Master's in Journalism from the University of Maryland. He previously wrote for the Capital News Service in Annapolis, where many of his stories on immigration and culture were published in national papers via the AP wire.

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