Pinellas high schools start too early, middle schools start too late and busing costs too much. Nothing the Pinellas County School Board did this week fixed any of those problems. After years of grappling with school starting times and an expensive labyrinth of bus routes, it's hard to have any faith that the district will ever unscramble this mess, provide clarity for parents and stop squandering money on transportation that should be spent in the classroom.
Board members did do at least one smart thing on Tuesday. They listened to the parents whose children would have been affected by a hastily conceived cost-savings plan and reversed their earlier decision. The proposal, which the board favored a mere two weeks ago, would have changed start times at dozens of schools in hopes of cutting busing costs by $2.25 million this year to help balance a $26 million shortfall. The change would have hit elementary school parents hardest, moving some grade schools to a 7:35 a.m. start time while not opening some others until 9:20. The push-back from parents was rapid and reasonable: It was a bad idea for their children's routines and for many family pocketbooks because it would have required more paid child care.
A majority of the board members didn't realize this, because apparently nobody asked parents. So time, effort and political capital were wasted making a bad decision, then reversing it. The district is facing many more tough calls on the budget and on busing. Now the decisions about where to cut will get even more difficult. But they can be more thoughtful. The lesson here is that district administrators and board members have to get more aggressive in soliciting parents' ideas and explaining needed changes in busing plans before approving them. No change in school start times or bus schedules is going to please every parent. But families have to be enlisted in working together on comprehensive solutions, not beating back hasty piecemeal decisions.