Gilbert Public Schools studies bell schedule adjustments to fix transportation issues

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Gilbert Public Schools is considering adjustments to its bell schedule in an effort to curb transportation problems that appeared last fall.

School transportation consultant Paul Novak told the governing board at its March 5 work-study session the bell schedule is at the heart of the problems of late buses, perceived or actual overcrowding and high turnover among drivers.

“The inability to provide on-time services to students in schools both morning and afternoon are a result of the bell-time structure that is simply designed to fail,” Novak said.

Novak presented two options to the board. Both consolidate start times for junior highs and elementary schools in the district. Those times currently are staggered across the district with some elementary schools’ start times also overlapping with the junior highs’.

Novak said that arrangement puts stress on the transportation system, increases the number of routes and drivers needed to transport students and adds stress to the drivers as they continually run late.

“I didn’t realize how much we set our drivers up for failure, and that concerns me quite a bit because our No. 1 job is to get kids to and from school,” Superintendent Shane McCord said. “When [Novak] laid all that out for me, it hit home because I am not a transportation expert. I definitely have a different idea of what our drivers do on a daily basis.”

McCord praised the district’s drivers. He acknowledged they have been working under frustrating circumstances.

“That translates to our students being late and does not make for a great experience all the way around,” McCord said. “So with these options, I hope that we can change that culture and have their experience be a positive one.”

Bell schedule options

The first option has all district elementary schools start at 7:35 a.m. and run until 2:20 p.m., high schools from 8:05 a.m. to 3 p.m. and junior highs from 8:35 a.m. to 3:35 p.m.

The second option has the high schools starting at 7:30 a.m., as they do now, and run until 2:25, five minutes earlier than now; the elementary schools from 8:15 a.m. to 3 p.m.; and junior highs from 8:45 p.m. to 3:40 p.m.

Most junior highs start earlier than the elementary schools under the current bell schedule.

Business Services Assistant Superintendent Bonnie Betz said drivers were presented the options, which she said were well-received. Transportation Director Paul Potts said he has heard no negative feedback about the options.

The district posted the bell schedule options on its website March 6 for families to review and give feedback on the proposals, Marketing and Communications Director Dawn Antestenis said.

Open enrollment

Board members expressed concern that the bus plan must not undermine promises made to families affected by recently approved boundary changes. The district had promised transportation for one year for students who stayed at their old schools rather than follow the new boundaries to a different school.

Novak suggested a deadline, perhaps in May, for families to commit to enrolling in the new neighborhood school or open enroll at their old schools.

Board members expressed a preference to ask families to make a decision by then but continue to honor the district’s promise for families that decide later. McCord agreed.

“We will accommodate you either way,” McCord said about open enrollment families. “I don’t care if it’s the day before school; [we will]figure out a way to get you on a bus.”

Other actions

• The board approved price changes for the VIK and Zone summer programs by $1 a day or $5 a week. The increases are to cover increased food and wage costs.

• The board approved the revised budget for the school year reflecting additional budget capacity. The budget had been presented to the board Feb. 27 but tabled so the public would have a chance to review it.

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Tom Blodgett
Raised in Arizona, Tom Blodgett has spent 30 years in journalism in Arizona and is the editor of the Gilbert edition of Community Impact Newspaper. He is a graduate of Arizona State University, where he now serves as an instructional professional in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and editorial adviser to The State Press, the university's independent student media outlet.
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