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Bell time changes raise concerns among middle school parents, students

The Hernando County School Board voted to adjust bell times as a way to save $600,000 in busing costs.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

The Hernando County School Board voted to adjust bell times as a way to save $600,000 in busing costs.

BROOKSVILLE — Parrott Middle School parent Rita Miller is worried about the big changes coming next year to her child's school schedule.

Instead of a 7:30 a.m. start time, Parrott students will begin their day at 9:10. The last bell of the day will be pushed back from 2:30 to 4:10 p.m.

"I think it's too late for them to come home from school," Miller said, noting her concerns about fitting in extracurricular activities. "I don't think that's enough time."

Many other Parrott parents share that opinion. One called the new times "inconvenient." Another said they were "ridiculous."

On Tuesday, Hernando County School Board members voted 3-2 to adjust bell times at most of the district's schools for 2014-15 as a way to save $600,000 in busing costs.

Most Hernando middle schools, including Parrott, will begin and end an hour and 40 minutes later than this year. All elementary schools will start 40 minutes earlier. Some high schools will start as early as 7:05 a.m.

Initially, board members had also considered restoring so-called courtesy busing next year for students living near their schools, but they decided against that.

The decision on bell times split board members and superintendent Lori Romano.

Romano recommended that the board keep bell times the same as this school year. Board members John Sweeney and Dianne Bonfield voted against changing the bell schedule.

Sweeney said he didn't like the idea of middle schoolers getting out later than elementary school kids, saying the late notice will be a "hardship on a lot of families."

Bonfield said the district is facing some big decisions and that now isn't the time to introduce more change.

"I just assume leave it like it was," she said.

She also said she doesn't like how late the middle school students will be getting out.

"All the research shows that the high school students should go later and the younger ones should go earlier," she said. "If we're going to change, I say we look at what research shows is the best way to deal with the biological clocks these kids have.

Board members Matt Foreman, Gus Guadagnino and Cynthia Moore voted for the bell schedule.

"I'll take $600,000 in savings, thank you," Foreman said.

The savings are made possible by having fewer bus drivers driving more routes, which requires fewer buses. Transportation director Doug Compton says the new bell schedule will require 15 fewer routes, which cost about $40,000 each.

"It utilizes our equipment and our personnel more efficiently," he said.

Parrott principal Brent Gaustad said he likes the bell time changes from an academic perspective, but is worried about student involvement in extracurricular activities dropping off.

With Parrott pulling students from across a large swath of eastern Hernando County, he said some kids might not get home from sports practice until 8 p.m.

"Although I believe it would work well, it won't really work for us," he told board members during a March workshop.

He said it wasn't practical to schedule practices before the school day starts.

"It's just a lot easier in the afternoon," he said.

Parrott sixth-grader Matt Platt, 12, said he had mixed feelings about the change. On the plus side, it means he will get to wake up later. But it also will make it more difficult to balance sports and studies after school.

"It means getting home later and less time to do my homework," he said.

Danny Valentine can be reached at dvalentine@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1432.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: The start time for Hernando County's four middle schools during the 2014-15 school year will be 9:10 a.m. An incorrect time was reported in the information box that accompanied Sunday's story about changes in bell times.

>>Fast facts

What's different

Here's a rundown of the changes to the 2014-15 bell times for Hernando County students.

Elementary schools: All elementary schools will begin 40 minutes earlier, starting at 8:35 a.m. and ending at 3:10 p.m.

K-8 schools: These schools will only see small changes, with bell times being pushed back by five minutes.

Middle schools: All middle schools will now begin at 9:10 a.m.,representing a change of an hour and 40 minutes for most of them.

High schools: High schools won't see much change, shifting 10 minutes at most. Three schools, however, will be pushed up to a start time of 7:05 a.m.

Bell time changes raise concerns among middle school parents, students 04/18/14 [Last modified: Monday, April 21, 2014 9:43am]
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