LARGO — It's official: Students at Thurgood Marshall Fundamental Middle School will be catching the bus two hours later this school year — to the chagrin of many parents.
Parents and students packed Tuesday night's School Board meeting in a last-ditch attempt to convince the board to let students begin their day at 7:20 a.m. instead of the proposed 9:30 a.m.
A motion to change the start time failed, 5-2.
The meeting was the last salvo in an ongoing debate over busing and start times at Thurgood Marshall in St. Petersburg. Superintendent Julie Janssen initially proposed that the district cut busing at the school to save money in the face of a $60 million budget deficit. But some board members objected, and Janssen proposed a compromise: keep busing at Thurgood Marshall in exchange for bumping back the first bell by two hours.
"You had valid points, but they are valid points that are held by many of our parents. We would like to make all middle schools earlier and high schools later," board member Peggy O'Shea told the audience. "The parents who chose this program, this school, knowing they had transportation now don't have another option if we were to pull transportation."
In the past, classes at Thurgood Marshall started at 7:20. The 9:30 a.m. start time saves money by allowing the district to rearrange its bus schedule, but has prompted concerns from parents.
Some have said they rely the earlier start time because they can't afford child care before school. Others rely on busing to get their children to school — having classes start two hours later is the lesser of two evils, they say.
But parents and students at Tuesday's meeting were overwhelmingly opposed to changing the start time.
"For those of us who have to work, who have really good jobs and want to keep those jobs, the 7:20 start time works really good," said Tracy Nicholl, who has two daughters at Thurgood.
And students said they wouldn't have time to finish rigorous workloads and attend extracurricular activities if their start time changed.
Times staff writer Ron Matus contributed to this report.