UPDATE: Tuesday, Jan. 15, 10 a.m.:
District 205 School Board President Jim Collins had this to say Tuesday morning with regard to the three-tier bus proposal:
"The board has asked Dave Pruneau and his administration to explore every idea they can think of to reduce the School District's costs without impacting the quality of education we deliver to our students. They are doing the job we asked them to do.
We understand that a three tiered bus system will impact start times in our schools. We understand and are empathetic the logistical complexities and expense of child care and the impact that our decisions may have on the quality of life of our students and potentially on the careers of our parents. I can assure you and the members of our community that we will provide plenty of opportunity for input and comments before we implement any of these ideas.
We are at the point that future major cost saving measures may impact the lives of our students and parents. These are community decisions. They will not be made in a vacuum. Mr. Pruneau is doing his job by discussing these ideas and getting input from as many members of the community as he can."
Earlier: Budget realities unveiled for Elmhurst District 205 school officials Jan. 9 show staffing needs increasing in special education and bilingual education, technology needs are increasing, state mandates are increasing and state funding is decreasing.
So, School Board members and staff are beginning to look at some new ideas for cost savings. Here is just one:
Changing the bus schedule would save the district up to $350,000 a year.
The drawback? It would require a change in school start times.
Superintendent David Pruneau said Monday he has been getting email from parents about this already, even though discussions are in the infancy stage.
"We have to do a lot more exploration into the consequences, both intended and unintended, and what other things we have to do to even consider instituting this," Pruneau said. "There are implications for the teachers' contract, implications for the support staff. There are implications for a lot of areas in the district. We have to work through all that first."
Then, the idea would be discussed at the board level, which would not likely happen before the board's Feb. 12 meeting. After that, the board would open it up for input from parents and community members before a final decision is made, Pruneau said.
How a Three-Tier Bus System Works
District 205 currently operates on a two-tier bus system. That means the buses combine to accommodate both elementary and middle school students in one tier, and both middle school and high school students in a second tier. Middle-schoolers go to school from 7:25 a.m. to 3:20 p.m. High school students attend school from 7:45 a.m. to 3:11 p.m. (with a 9 a.m. start most Wednesdays), and elementary students from 8:15 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Going to a three-tier bus system—where the same buses and drivers would be dedicated first to all high school kids, then all middle school, then all elementary—would mean students would be picked and dropped off in sequence.
"If you go to three tiers, you're reducing the number of buses you need and the number of bus drivers," Pruneau said. "But, it makes a big difference in the start times, especially at the elementary (level). You have to build in enough time to pick up high school kids, drop them off, then pick up middle school kids, drop them off, then elementary. The time spread is much greater than we presently have."
To accommodate a three-tier bus schedule, high school students would have to start about 10 to 15 minutes earlier, and elementary students would start as late as 8:50 or 8:55 a.m., Pruneau said. The shift won't change the length of the school day.
"That's a pretty dramatic change, and we know that," he said. "I'm empathetic with parents."
Word of this proposal already has been spreading from parent to parent by email and creating a stir. In general, the comments obtained by Elmhurst Patch are negative toward any such proposal.
"If we don't do something about this now, this could easily be pushed through," said one working mom, urging other working moms to contact Pruneau. "Can you imagine telling your boss you can't start at 9 anymore?"
Change in school start times already caused anxiety for parents this year, the first year the district implemented late arrival days at York nearly every Wednesday. It was an adjustment many parents, especially those on a tight work schedule, had not wanted to make.
But $350,000 a year is a significant savings that could go toward teachers and educational programs, Pruneau said.
"That represents the savings of about five to six teaching positions on a year-to-year basis," he said. "And we have parents who are very concerned with increasing class sizes. We just want to make sure we've looked at all the options so we're not continuing to affect teachers and classrooms. This is one of those options, but I understand it's a big change for parents.
"If we're going to move it forward, I would want a decision in March, so parents have plenty of time to make changes. But again, we're not even at that stage."
It's Not Really a New Idea
Pruneau said that his former district, in Rochester, Mich., also operated under a three-tier bus schedule.
"It wasn't something I changed," he said. "We were already on a three-tier system. Our start schedules were similar to what this would be."
One doesn't have to go as far as Rochester to find the three-tier schedule, however.
"There are a number of districts we have looked at that are starting to move in that direction," he said. "It's not like this is new."
He cited school districts in Batavia, Aurora and Wheaton that already are using the three-tier system "because of the cost savings in transportation," he said.
"It's part of the economic times," he said. "With decreasing revenues from the state, I feel an obligation that we at least need to explore all of these and have a discussion about where the community and the parents want to be with further budget cuts, and what we're doing and not doing."
The bus schedule is just one discussion officials are having.
"There are a couple of others we're looking at right now," Pruneau said. "We just have to look at everything."