Park City School District start times decision waits on transportation findings | ParkRecord.com

Park City School District start times decision waits on transportation findings

Question of grade realignment also muddies the water

The Park City School District is waiting on the findings of a transportation consultant before deciding whether school start times will be changed for next school year.

Todd Hauber, the district's business administrator, said the firm, School Bus Consultants, is currently exploring how the district's transportation and busing operations could work under a new set of bell schedules, as well as how such a change would impact traffic in the area. The firm, which has conducted a site visit to the district and is also analyzing the results of a recent traffic study performed along S.R. 248 and S.R. 224, is expected to deliver its findings to district officials sometime next month.

"That will inform that part of the (discussion)," Hauber said. "What is feasible? How much would it cost on the transportation side? And it will hopefully give us some more insight into traffic loads on (State Roads) 248 and 224."

Molly Miller, a spokeswoman for the district, said in an email that the Board of Education will determine shortly afterwards whether to change start times for next school year or delay the move another year.

The district has been exploring altering the start times for months in order to provide a better learning environment for high school students, whose learning is hampered when classes begin too early, according to research. In August, the school board inched closer to making the move official, voting to specify that, if school times are changed, the first bell at the high school will not ring before 8:30 a.m. and also creating an implementation team tasked with figuring out the details of how to make the change happen.

Despite the educational benefits shifting the start times might bring, though, figuring out how to actually do it has proven challenging. Delaying the first bell at the high school, for instance, would cause a domino effect at the other schools — whose times would also have to change — and create a host of other considerations. Additionally, school officials have grappled with factors such as how the change would affect the high school's athletic teams, which would often be forced to practice in the dark during the winter and would miss more class on game days.

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Transportation, though, remains perhaps the biggest puzzle. Solving it would go a long way toward allowing school officials to work through the other issues, Hauber said, but uncertainty around the district's planned grade realignment has further complicated matters. If the district realigns grades for the 2017-2018 school year, it would potentially require moving fifth and sixth grades to Treasure Mountain Junior High School and putting eighth grade into Ecker Hill Middle School alongside seventh grade.

Moving those grades into different schools would require significant changes to the district's transportation system, making it impossible to determine for certain how transportation might take shape under new bell schedules until the school board makes a decision on realignment, Hauber said. The school board is expected to decide soon whether to move forward with realignment for next school year, though several board members indicated at the last public meeting that they are likely to support delaying the change.

"It's a scenario that's not tested," he said. "It's hard to do that when everything is up in the air. … If you fundamentally change what buildings grades go into, I essentially have no transportation system and I have to build it from scratch. And building it from scratch is totally different than tweaking it a little this way or that way on times of day."