District pulls back on start time change

After receiving negative feedback from the community, the Park Hill School District has backpedaled on plans to change school start times for the next school year.

The district released a statement late last week announcing the start times will remain as-is for the 2019-2020 school year.

“The board and the district care deeply about our families, and we hear what they are telling us,” superintendent Dr. Jeanette Cowherd said. “We still have a problem to solve, and I believe we can all solve it together.”

The district received almost 1,800 survey responses in on the Park Hill Listens website, including more than 1,100 comments and suggestions.

Almost all of those comments expressed concerns about the plans, according to the district. More than 120 questions were also received, asking for more information about the problems cited by administration and the solution proposed. Many of the questions and comments centered on the idea of later start times for high-school students.

Administrators said they will stop the process and take some time to develop a new plan to address the issues caused by the ongoing, nationwide bus driver shortage. The district will also study the impacts of later high-school start times on students’ academics and opportunities.

An updated timeline for the process will be released after consultation with district families, staff and the community. Accommodations will be made in the budget, and administrators vowed to “publicly share all the complex issues that factor into this problem and any potential solutions.”

“We appreciate our Park Hill family, and we appreciate everyone’s support as we try to find the best possible solution for Park Hill,” Cowherd said.

The administration warned that district families will still face challenges due to the bus driver shortage. The addition of two new schools opening in the fall will stretch the limited number of bus drivers over even more routes.

The proposed changes had been in the planning for months, and administrators said were due to growth in the district. As the district has grown, it has become more and more difficult for district service provider First Student to keep and hire enough bus drivers. First Student has to use inexperienced substitute drivers and driving trainers often have to fill in on routes. Changing start times would mean fewer drivers are required to drive routes, allowing First Student to hire and keep more experienced drivers.

The driver shortage has caused many problems, including late buses and communication problems. District officials say streamlining the driver pool would save the district more than $1 million.