The Affton School District’s recent efforts to take the pulse of the school community on later start times have yielded a clear message – a change is welcome.
While it’s apparent the district is prepared to shake up starting times, it’s less clear what the changes will be, how soon any of them will come about and how much it will cost.
More than 1,700 Affton parents, students, staff and community members responded to an online survey the district sent out to gauge opinions about school starting times. The survey was paired with two in-person meeting dates concerning the subject.
“It does seem there is an appetite for change,” Affton School District Superintendent Travis Bracht said, explaining the survey results at the school board meeting on Dec. 4.
Bracht said most who want change favor the district’s “Option A,” which would eliminate the current 7:10 a.m. start time and realign all school starting times with older grades starting earliest, though no specific times have been set.
The district’s “Option B” presented to community members also would eliminate the 7:10 a.m. start time, with Rogers Middle School and Affton High School starting first, but no specific times have been established.
A third proposal, “Option C,” would again nix the 7:10 a.m. starting time, with Affton High School starting the earliest and the middle school starting the latest. Those surveyed where also given “Option D,” which was to keep the current start time.
Parents and guardians, who made up 45.3 percent of the survey respondents, favored “Option A,” realigning all school starting times with older grades starting the earliest. District employees, who constituted 16.1 percent of survey takers, also favored this option.
The majority of students – 32.2 percent of survey participants – however, said they would prefer to keep the start schedule as it is now.
“A lot of people like that we have brought this forward in a transparent manner,” Bracht said. “The hard part is going to be figuring out how to change things.”
Initially, Bracht and the board said they would have a plan of action regarding new start times in place to vote on at the Dec. 18 school meeting, but that may not happen.
“It’s not something we have to act on at the next meeting, but we could,” he said.
Bracht said coordinating the bus schedules and calculating the costs of reshuffling starting times will be studied over the next two weeks.
Combining tiers for the bus fleet, which now delivers students to the four school buildings within a 90-minute window, could require additional buses. There could also be added costs for families who may have to utilize before school or after school care as a result of any changes.
Affton School Board Member Board Michael McNeil said he is pleased public engagement has been high, but is concerned about people realizing that expenses will be incurred from the changes.
Affton School Board Member Tom Bellavia said he wants to make sure the change is positive across the board.
“The main problem we want to solve is the early start time, but we want to make sure that in solving one problem we aren’t creating others,” he said.
Affton School Board Member Susan Casaleggi said she has heard from parents of Rogers Middle School students that they don’t want their children riding the bus with high school students.
A recommendation is expected to be presented at the next board meeting, though a vote on the issue is not certain.