As the Affton School Board begins the new year, the hottest topic remains the question of whether starting times at the district’s four schools should be changed.

At a work session embedded in the board’s Jan. 8 regular meeting, District Business Manager Steve Fedchak put some preliminary dollar signs to the prospect of coordinating new scheduling with the district’s bus fleet.

Assistant Superintendent Chris Daughtry, who came to Affton after serving as transportation director at an Indiana school district, said it will require four to five additional bus routes should the district opt to consolidate its four-tier daily transportation slate into the two-tier schedule he thinks is most workable.

The rescheduling option that Superintendent Travis Bracht recommended to the board of education on Dec. 18 calls for Affton High School to become the earliest starting of the four schools, shifting to 7:30 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. from 7:40 a.m. to 2:25 p.m.

Rogers Middle School, which currently starts at 7:10 a.m. and is the school most parents complain about in terms of starting time, would start at 8 a.m. and dismiss at 2:45 p.m. Gotsch Intermediate would see only a 10-minute change, going to an 8:30 a.m. start from 8:40 a.m. and Mesnier Primary would go to 9 a.m. from 8:10 a.m. The proposed new schedule was tabled by the board in December.

“(Under the proposed new times,) we would need to go to 16 routes from 11,” Daughtry told the board. “Some routes would be heavier (in terms of bus capacity,) some would be lighter. But keep in mind, discipline and safety issues will go up, the more crowded the bus.”

In line with best practices and parents’ preference, the district tries to transport children of relatively the same age grouping for its daily bus routes. Across the board, students’ bus trips are typically about 25 minutes in duration, which Daughtry said is relatively short.

“No matter which school we put in the latest time slot, some people are not going to be happy,” said board member Ken Edgar.

The proposed new, two-tier system would cost the district about $455,000 more per year, taking into account the hiring of additional drivers and purchasing new buses, said Fedchak. The district’s annual transportation budget is currently at about $690,000.

Board President Patricia Zahn said that each board member has read close to 2,000 surveys and responses, as well as met with stakeholders, in considering the best course of action for changes to school start times.

The board took no action at the Jan. 8 meeting.