Following study results, Montgomery Co. superintendent recommends no change to school schedules

MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Md. (WJLA) - After the release of a report studying the impact of changing school start and end times throughout the district, Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Joshua Starr issued a statement Tuesday recommending that the district not make any changes.

In his statement, he cites "mixed feedback" from the community as well as high costs of at least $21 million for implementation as reasons behind his recommendation.

He said he will not be including the implementation costs into his proposed budget for the 2014-15 school year, though he said he was not against "revisiting" the idea of changing bell schedules in the future.

“I recommended we study changing bell times because I believe it is an important issue that deserves our attention,” Starr wrote. “But after receiving the final cost estimates, along with mixed feedback from our community, I do not believe it is feasible or responsible to move forward with these changes at this time. However, we will continue to discuss and monitor this issue.”

In October, Starr recommended that MCPS consider shifting high school start times 50 minutes later, shifting middle school start times 10 minutes earlier, and extending the elementary school day by 30 minutes. His recommendation was based on a report from the 2013 Bell Times Work Group, which studied the impact that school start times have on the health and well-being of students, particularly those in high school.{ }

Starr asked MCPS staff to gather public input on the recommendation and do an in-depth analysis of the costs and operational impact. He also asked a group to study options for how the additional 30 minutes of elementary school time could be used.

The report, released Tuesday, indicated the costs of implementing such changes would be roughly $21.6 million per year for increased transportation, staffing, and utility costs.

That amount includes $12.9 million to purchase and operate 57 additional general education buses and 96 additional buses to serve special education students and those who attend magnet programs.

In addition, Starr indicated the cost of adding 30 minutes to the elementary school day would vary depending on how the time was used. For example, extending recess or lunch would cost about $8 million a year, while increasing art, music, and/or physical education classes would cost about $47 million per year.

Starr added that MCPS already anticipates needing at least $135 million in additional funding for the FY 2016 operating budget in order to replace the one-time funding sources used by the County Council to fund the FY 2015 budget, to meet the district’s ongoing obligations, to keep up with enrollment growth, and to "invest in strategies that will help the district close the achievement gap."

“Bell times are an important issue related to student success and well-being, but have to be viewed in the context of other priorities and needs the school system must consider,” Starr said in his statement. “These needs include hiring more teachers, counselors, and school psychologists to meet the academic and social emotional needs of our students; expanding the use of technology in the classroom; reducing class sizes - especially in schools with the largest achievement gaps - and investing in other programs that will meet the individual needs of our students.”

As for community feedback, Starr said, "The MCPS community was not of a single mind about the proposal."

He said parents were most in favor of the proposal, with 78 percent of those surveyed supporting his initial recommendation for changing bell schedules. However, about 50 percent of high school students and 51 percent of high school staff were evenly divided on the idea.

Seventy percent of middle school students and 65 percent of staff favored the idea of the bell schedule changes. However, a majority of elementary school students and staff were opposed to changing bell times, with only 35 percent of students and 30 percent of staff favoring the shift, he said.

“Our staff did an outstanding job gathering input from a broad array of stakeholders and giving everyone a chance for their voice to be heard,” Starr said. “While there has been support for changing bell times from some parts of our community, there is not a clear consensus on this issue.”

Read the full report from the school district online.

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