By Ashley M. Casey
The Modified School Start Time Committee has recommended two options for the Liverpool Central School District to implement a later start time at Liverpool High School, but the board of education wants more information before making a decision. The committee presented its recommendations at the June 20 school board meeting.
Committee member and LHS Spanish teacher Amy Pento said the district’s current schedule was the third “option.”
“We included the existing [schedule] because we want to remember that by not choosing to start at a later time, you’re making a decision,” Pento said. “You’re making a decision to disregard the overwhelming evidence that later start times and more sleep is beneficial to the mental health, physical health, safety and academics of adolescents.”
Under the first option the committee presented, LHS would begin the day at 9:10 a.m. and dismiss students at 3:55 p.m. The middle schools would start at 8:25 a.m. and end at 3:10 p.m. Liverpool’s nine elementary schools would have staggered schedules:
Craig Dailey, a committee member who was elected to the school board in May, said the pros of the triple start schedule were as follows:
Dailey also listed the cons of the triple start plan:
The second option outlined — and the Modified School Start Time Committee’s admitted preference — would have all elementary schools begin at 8:05 a.m. and dismiss at 2:50 p.m. LHS and all middle schools would start at 8:55 a.m. and end at 3:35 p.m.
Pros of the double start plan included:
The committee listed cons of this option as well:
Director of Transportation Laura D’Arcangelis said the district would have to hire additional bus drivers and purchase 30 more school buses to accommodate the double start schedule. Each bus costs roughly $125,000, but 75 percent of the cost is aidable.
“We need to get more certain what we’ll be spending out of pocket,” BOE member Richard Pento said.
BOE member Kevin Van Ness said he wanted more information about the bus routes that would be added if the district implemented the double start plan.
“I would like to know how those 30 additional buses would be deployed,” he said.
Board member Michael Leone asked how student-athletes and students who participate in the fine arts would be affected. Committee member and LHS teacher Amy Pento said she had no hard numbers on either population, but she said there are about 1,000 student-athletes at any given time during the school year.
Amy Pento said fine arts activities likely would not be affected much by an altered school start time, as they are not dependent on other schools’ schedules.
“The big issue is the interscholastic [piece]. … That’s why athletics was a concern,” she said.
Board member Stacey Balduf had numerous questions about the committee’s recommendations. She contested the committee’s claim that 85 percent of Liverpool adolescents would remain sleep-deprived under the district’s current schedule, and she said she had heard from high schoolers that they wouldn’t be able to maintain their academic and extracurricular balance if school let out at 4 p.m.
Balduf requested, among other things: sleep data specific to Liverpool students, whether students surveyed were in the classrooms of teachers on the committee, more information from New York state school districts of Liverpool’s size that have altered their schedules and a bibliography of the academic studies the committee consulted.
“I don’t buy the research,” Balduf said. “I’ve attended the meetings and it seemed a little one-sided.”
Balduf’s BOE colleagues protested that the additional information Balduf requested placed an undue burden on district staff and the Modified School Start Time Committee.
“I think there’s a lot of good stuff in there, and some of seems worthy of more discussion before sending out people for a lot of research,” Neil Fitzpatrick said. “We’ve talked about making decisions as a board and not burdening district employees or committee members with questions that are just of one particular member.”
“I do not think we place these requirements on other committees,” Richard Pento said. “I think we need to be more selective … of information that we actually need.”
Outgoing BOE Vice President John Kennedy said he “would be skeptical” that the triple start plan would have no associated costs, and he urged his fellow board members to consider what tradeoffs the district would have to make in order to implement school start time changes.
Superintendent Dr. Mark Potter agreed that the district would need to analyze the costs and benefits of an altered schedule.
“Does the squeeze equal the juice, or does the juice make sense with what you’re going to give up?” Potter said.
Balduf said she would withdraw her questions if district officials could assure the board that the district could afford to make the changes, but she recommended the issue be put to a public vote.
“This is way too big an impact K through 12 for the public not to have an input,” she said.
Fitzpatrick said he didn’t want to “rush into anything,” but he acknowledged that the current schedule may not be the best.
“If we were going to open up a school district tomorrow called ‘Liverpool,’” he said, “I don’t think our current start time would be what we’d go with.”
Ashley M. Casey is a reporter for The Baldwinsville Messenger and The Eagle Star-Review. She graduated from Le Moyne College in 2012 and previously worked for the Scotsman Press.