The worry of cost savings for the school district becoming costs incurred for families through child care needs was a chief concern of parents at Tuesday's Jefferson City Public Schools town hall meeting on possible changes to school start times.
School district leaders said they will look into ways to make any transitions easier for families.
JCPS is considering whether to synchronize its school start times to have all elementary buildings start at one time and all secondary buildings at another, one hour apart. District officials have said the change would save up to about $500,000 annually in bus transportation costs. It might also help alleviate existing busing delay issues and new route challenges with the addition of Capital City High School this coming fall.
The school district showed two options Tuesday night at Lewis and Clark Middle School's cafeteria for a proposed unified start time schedule for the 2019-20 school year. A third option would be to leave everything the same.
Option 1: Have all elementary schools start at 7:50 a.m. and dismiss at 2:50 p.m.; middle schools, 8:45 a.m.-3:45 p.m.; high schools, 8:55 a.m.-3:55 p.m.
Option 2: Have all elementary schools operate later than the secondary schools, with all elementaries starting at 8:55 a.m. and dismissing at 3:55 p.m.; middle schools, 7:45 a.m.-2:45 p.m.; high schools, 7:55 a.m.-2:55 p.m.
Dr. Jennifer Krause — an SSM Health pediatrician who works in Jefferson City and who also attended the town hall Tuesday — spoke to research from the American Academy of Pediatrics that shows middle and high school students' health and performance in school are best served by a school start time of no earlier than 8:30 a.m.
Hannah Coe — associate pastor of children and families at First Baptist Church in Jefferson City — said she agreed the changes make a lot of sense, but any schedule other than the current one would affect churches, such as hers, that pick up children for after-school programs.
"It's really going to change what we're able to offer," Coe said.
JCPS Superintendent Larry Linthacum told the audience of 25-30 people, plus district staff and officials, that a decision has not yet been made, adding the district is trying to weigh the pros and cons of each option.
After a presentation from JCPS chief financial and operating officer Jason Hoffman, people in attendance had the opportunity to ask questions and voice opinions.
Jessica Green — a parent of two children who attend school in the district, and a candidate for the JCPS Board of Education in the April election — said after the meeting that she wondered if the district has thought through whether cost savings for itself might come through increased costs to families, something some others present also voiced.
Green said her children are in Jefferson City YMCA's Y-Care program, but she's not sure that option would work for every family in the district who might need child care if, for example, start time changes create a gap in the morning or afternoon between when parents have to be at work and children would otherwise be at home unsupervised.
Another person asked if money saved through a start time unification could be used to supplement families' child care expenses. Hoffman said the district would definitely look into that.
There are many details of the proposed options the school district has not yet worked out — whether lunch periods would be moved back to give more of a gap between middle and high school students' breakfasts and lunch, if those students started school later; what child care options at the Boys & Girls Club, Y-Care or other options in the community would be; and details of how district staff might provide child care in the morning for families that would need it.
Linthacum said he anticipates, though, secondary buildings would be open more than 30 minutes before their start times, if they started an hour later, and there would not be any children getting on buses at 5:30 a.m. — some students are already boarding buses at 6 a.m.
JCPS is having another town hall Thursday for people in the community to discuss potential start time changes. The meeting starts at 5 p.m. at Thomas Jefferson Middle School.
A recording of Tuesday night's presentation and discussion is available at youtube.com/watch?v=u4FkIa2Ht5s.
JCPS Board of Education is expected to receive a recommendation for a start time change option at its Feb. 25 meeting, and then a decision on approval will be made at its March meeting.