APS Issues “Talking Points” on Elementary School Bus Schedules – Questions Remain

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The APS administration issued talking points to address the many issues raised by changing the bus schedules for elementary school children (for the details see linklink and link). The following are the key points presented:

  1. The arrival time at the elementary schools was initially set at 7:10 a.m. It has now been changed to 7:20 a.m. for most schools. Schools with two campuses will have an arrival time of both 7:10 and 7:20 a.m. [CommentIt is still unclear if all the times for student pick up on the bus routes will also be adjusted by the 10 minute change noted above. New bus schedules should be released in the next couple of days and we will be able to see the entirety of the changes then.]
  2. In the initially published version of the bus schedule there were a number of pick-ups scheduled between 5:45 and 6:25 a.m. Many of these were in error and are being corrected.
  3. “Principals were provided information by administration in late June surrounding staff coverage related to the earlier anticipated arrivals. Each principal is responsible for ensuring adequate staff beginning at 7:20am.” [Commentthe information I am hearing from parents who have talked to principals indicate that the 7:10 arrival time (as originally scheduled) was a complete surprise to them. Further, it seems as if the communication to all affected APS personnel may have only consisted of an update in the new Employee Handbook issued at the beginning of July which was sent electronically. The changes to the earlier start time – while noted in one place in the Handbook – was not highlighted in the Updates section.]
  4. “the district weighed all of its options, listened to parents and community stakeholders and eventually recognized the challenge that changing the elementary bell schedule would have on students, parents and staff.” [CommentI guess the administration concluded that the “challenges” associated with starting class 15 minutes earlier were too much of a burden. However, moving the bus schedules back by 20 minutes was fine. In a nutshell, that is APS “logic” at its best and on full display!]
  5. In the Budget Commission meetings, the issue was always discussed in the context of a $1-3 million cost savings that was specifically related to the changes in the bell schedule. Now it seems that the issue is also “cost avoidance” of not having to add new buses because of the more efficient use of the 400+ fleet on-hand. [CommentThe issue of “cost savings” versus “cost avoidance” is still totally muddled and none of the number still make any sense to me.]
  6. The administration contends that, as part of the Budget Commission discussions, the BOE was alerted to the fact that “we could get some savings by moving the bus pickup times slightly.” As there was no further discussion on what “slightly” meant at the time, there was no further discussion by the BOE on the matter. [CommentThe BOE members I have talked with do not consider the initial 20 minutes earlier drop off times as “slight”. Neither do the affected parents. Once again, the administration was not forthcoming with all the facts at the time of the BOE discussion and they did not fully apprise the BOE at a later date when the full meaning of “slightly” was known. BOE members were as surprised as parents when the changes were announced.]

The following are the talking points issued by APS in its entirety:

Talking Points: EBD, SWM, BOE, SR. CABINET Transportation Changes for the 2013-2014 School Year August 1, 2013 

Equitable On-Time Arrival for Students 

With the start of each school year, Atlanta Public Schools continually seeks out opportunities to improve our Day One process. We believe that all children can thrive when we open their minds to learning, discovery, and achievement.

Our new bell schedule allows for equitable, on-time arrival of all students in the district. We further believe that the change in bell schedule will promote this charge. This schedule is expected to increase breakfast participation, shorten ride times for special needs students and improve student safety.

As a district with a 75% free and reduced lunch student population, we know that many of our students depend on receiving healthy meals while in our care. Research shows that proper nutrition at the start of the school day directly impacts student achievement. Consistent arrival times also directly impact student achievement. Our initial intent, when creating bus routes for this school year, was to deliver students on time so that all children would have adequate time to eat breakfast and adequate time to get to their classrooms. In order to accomplish these goals, we set a target arrival time for elementary school buses at 7:10am.

Not adjusting the bus schedules would have required the addition of 50 buses and drivers.

Transportation Q&A 

Q: Did the elementary bell schedule change for the 2013-2014 school year? Answer: No, the bell schedule for all elementary students has remained the same; however, bus pick-up times may be 10-15 minutes earlier for some students.

Q: Elementary student arrival times are currently 7:10 am. Did we change the routes yet? Answer: Our original 7:10 goal of arrival for students gave us ample opportunity to deliver students by 7:30 am for breakfast. We have decided that a change to 7:20 am targeted arrival for the majority of our schools should not have a negative impact on our elementary students. This 10-minute adjustment will not impact getting students to their schools on time. Schools on split campuses (primary and main campus), such as Adamsville/Miles, Grove Park/Woodson, Smith, Brandon and Jackson will have a 7:10 targeted arrival at the main campus and 7:20 targeted arrival at the primary campus. 

Q: As a board member, I recall the board being concerned about our elementary school students and how early bus schedules and start times would affect them, so we decided not to change the start time of school for them. If it was the intention of the administration to implement early pick up times then for what purpose did our decision serve? Answer: Administration presented the budget commission a proposal to save by moving the bell schedules. The budget commission registered some concern about the elementary start time. Administration came back with a second proposal which left the elementary start time intact, but we noted that we could get some savings by moving the bus pickup times slightly. The commission had no further discussion at that point and our actions have been consistent with that proposal. Elementary walkers remain unaffected because all elementary schools are scheduled to serve breakfast at 7 a.m.  

Q: Will all elementary buses arrive at 7:20am? Answer: No. Arrival at 7:20 am is our newly scheduled arrival time for most schools; however our range for drop-off is between 7:10 am to 7:30 am. After the first few weeks of school, transportation will analyze routes, level buses and make necessary adjustments.

Q: Will students be able to eat breakfast as soon as they arrive via bus? Answer: Yes. Students will be able to participate in the breakfast program from the moment they enter the school. In fact, any student arriving at school prior to 7:30, whether via bus, as a walker or carpooler, may enter to receive breakfast.

Q: Can we add text at the end of each route, to let elementary parents know that drop-off is between 7:20-7:30? Answer: The times are being adjusted.

Q: My child attends a split campus school and is a primary school student who is scheduled to arrive at 7:00 am. This is a full hour before school begins. Can we change this drop-off time? Answer: Schools with split campuses are currently scheduled to drop off primary students at 7:00 am. This will be changed to 7:10 for primary arrivals followed by 7:20 for main campuses. 

Q: I see that Springdale Park students have a drop-off at 7:35 am. Can my child’s drop-off be changed to 7:35 am? Answer: Springdale Park routes were changed on 7/30/13 to reflect a 7:35am drop-off. Parents may see this time and assume that their school can also have this late drop off, but in this case, Spark buses will move on to middle schools instead of high schools, which will allow for a later drop-off time.

Q: Several routes posted today online showed pick-up times between the hours of 5:45am and 6:25am. Are there students in the district who are expected to arrive at the bus stop this early? Answer: The routes with those particular stops listed, were posted in error and have been updated. Some students, per legislation, can be educated outside of the district. This could be up to an hour away.

 Q: Our bus stop time was moved up by 10 minutes last school year. Now it has been moved up another 30 minutes. Why so much movement? Answer: Routes change each year, depending upon the number of new students added to the schedule. We adjust routes yearly based on enrollment, student attrition and other factors. Each route is created with unique variables, however 10-15 minutes is the average change in pick-up times for most students this year, compared to last year. We will investigate your specific situation and try to provide a targeted explanation.

Q: Our child attends E. Rivers Elementary and the bus pick-up time is too early. The commute also seems long. Can this be adjusted? Will there be adequate adult supervision? Answer: E. Rivers will be housed during the 2013-14 school year in the old Sutton Middle School building. Transporting students from one quadrant of the city to another will require navigating a longer distance on a new route. While we will make adjustments during August if we feel that the buses can make it the new site in less time, student safety is our top priority. At this time the longer commute requires an earlier pick-up time.

Q: My child attends Brandon Elementary. We are only 10 minutes away from the school, why must we arrive so early? Answer: Transportation is reviewing routes for Brandon Elementary where elementary buses move on to middle schools instead of high schools. Best efforts will be made to adjust routes where possible.

Q: I am a teacher. How is our school addressing the issue of morning coverage? How will we make sure it is equitable and where will students be housed before class? Answer: Principals were provided information by administration in late June surrounding staff coverage related to the earlier anticipated arrivals. Each principal is responsible for ensuring adequate staff beginning at 7:20am.

Q: What are the advantages of the new bell schedule? Answer: The new bell schedule allows for equitable on-time arrival for all students in the district. This schedule is expected to increase breakfast participation, shorten ride times for special needs students and improve student safety. Consistent arrival times directly impact student achievement.  

Q: How do these transportation changes impact our special needs students? Answer: Some regional special education classes have been moved back to schools within the students’ communities to reduce transportation time for students with disabilities.

 Q: Are neighboring school districts following a similar bell schedule? Answer: Yes. School districts with similar bell schedules include: Cobb County Clayton County DeKalb County Gwinnett County Fulton County Henry County Cherokee County Savannah/Chatham County Muscogee County Augusta/Richmond County

Q: Are APS leaders supportive of the new bell schedule? Answer: Yes. The APS Principal Bell Schedule Task Force, APS Superintendent, APS Senior Cabinet, APS Curriculum and Instruction Department, APS Special Needs Department, APS Athletics, and APS Operations Division are supportive of the new bell schedule.

Q: Was community input considered in the planning stages of the new bell schedule? Answer: Yes. Four school safety forums were held in January 2013, for each region that allowed parents and community members to provide input on school bell schedules.

Q: Is the new bell schedule a cost saving measure? Answer: It is actually cost avoidance. As a district, we could have either changed our schedule or added an additional 50 buses with drivers to our fleet.  

Q: While you say you didn’t change the elementary bell schedule, my child’s early pick up time still feels like you did. Answer: As it relates to elementary schools and changes to the bell schedule, the district weighed all of its options, listened to parents and community stakeholders and eventually recognized the challenge that changing the elementary bell schedule would have on students, parents and staff. We will maintain an 8am start and 2:30pm end of all elementary schools while implementing changes at the high school and middle school level. Buses will continue from elementary schools on to our middle and high schools, therefore there may be a 10-15 change in elementary bus routes.

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