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New start times for Pinellas schools unsettle some parents

The new bell schedule could cost Dawn Zabroske another $60 a week to put her daughter, Julia, in before-school care.

JIM DAMASKE | Times

The new bell schedule could cost Dawn Zabroske another $60 a week to put her daughter, Julia, in before-school care.

Like many working parents, Dawn Zabroske's days are like clockwork.

She wakes her kids around 6:45 a.m., sees her husband off to work at 7 a.m. and is out the door by 8 a.m.

Fifteen minutes later she is kissing her daughter goodbye at Sutherland Elementary in Palm Harbor. The plan puts her safely at her desk in Clearwater by 9 a.m. for a mandatory meeting.

"I cannot be there a minute later than 9," Zabroske said.

But families like hers say new school start times approved this week by the Pinellas School Board will wreak havoc on schedules — and budgets — as some, like the Zabroskes, are forced to consider leaving their kids at before-school programs.

"Parents are in an uproar," said Karen Sleszynski, who has kids in elementary, middle and high schools. "How do we get together and fix this?"

She was among several upset parents who e-mailed or called the superintendent, school board members and the St. Petersburg Times.

Starting in the fall, Pinellas elementary schools, most of which now start at 8:35 a.m., will be placed on three tracks for the first bell:

• Ten would start at 7:35 a.m.

• Twenty-eight, including the school Zabroske's daughter attends, will start almost an hour later at 9:20 a.m. (A before-school program could cost the Zabroskes at least $60 a week per child, they said.)

• Thirty-one would remain at 8:35 a.m.

Schools that are not affected by the time change this year, could be affected next year because the elementary schools will rotate through the tracks.

Middle schools will start 10 minutes earlier, at 9:20 a.m., and high schools will continue their early 7:05 a.m. start time.

At the Farrell household in Oldsmar, the schedule worries are opposite of those faced by the Zabroskes.

Nicole Farrell's son enters first grade this fall at Cypress Woods Elementary. Six-year-old Patrick spent the past school year waking at 7 a.m. to make his bus stop pickup by 7:40 a.m.

Under his school's new start time, Farrell reckons her son's bus stop time will likely be at 6:40 a.m. — which means waking Patrick and his 3-year-old sister before the sun rises.

A stay-at-home mom and former teacher, Farrell said the new schedule is unsettling, but something else bothers her more: "It's that parents were completely left out of the loop."

Farrell found out that the start times were a done deal in a call from her son's school. Another parent told Zabroske in an e-mail.

What about working parents who don't get home until 7 or 8 at night, Farrell wonders? If their little children are on the earlier schedule, parents might never get to see their kids awake or else risk compromising the children's sleep schedules.

Originally, superintendent Julie Janssen said, the purpose of changing the bell times was to reduce busing costs, push middle school start times earlier and let high schoolers start school later.

Indeed, the scenario will eliminate 50 bus routes, district leaders say, saving $2.25 million in tough budget times. But in the end, the age group most affected appears to be the younger children. High school times aren't touched.

Tuesday, board members Carol Cook, Linda Lerner, Peggy O'Shea and Mary Brown each expressed some concern about the impact of the new school start times on families and children. Nevertheless, the board approved the changes 6-1. Board chairwoman Janet Clark dissented.

"We're talking about thousands of families being impacted by this," Cook said.

Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at (727) 893-8707 or rcatalanello@sptimes.com.

New start times for Pinellas schools unsettle some parents 06/17/10 [Last modified: Thursday, June 17, 2010 11:51pm]
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