Olentangy schools won’t change start times

By Brandon Klein - [email protected]

The Olentangy Local School District has hit the snooze button on any potential plans to start middle and high school classes later in the day.

District leadership determined that a comprehensive survey’s results collectively do not “demonstrate a strong, favorable interest” by its parents to make the changes, according to a report on the school’s website.

“I greatly appreciate … the fantastic amount of feedback received by our community on this topic,” Olentangy Superintendent Mark Raiff said during a school board meeting this month. “It certainly helped us to navigate this decision and allowed us to determine the appropriate course of action, which will be to continue our current school start time schedule.”

Olentangy’s high schools start at 7:20 a.m., while middle schools start at 7:40 or 8:10 a.m. and elementary schools start at 8:50 or 9:05 a.m. each day, according to the district’s website.

But the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that middle and high schools should start no earlier than 8:30 a.m. After parents approached the school board in 2014 to consider the recommendations, Olentangy’s administration examined the impact of later school start times on transportation costs.

It found the most cost-effective way to achieve later start times and keep its current length of day would require the purchase of 141 additional school buses for $12.5 million — plus an additional $7.8 million in annual operating costs.

The superintendent’s Continuous Improvement Committee began to explore a way to accommodate a later middle and high school start time without impacting the length of the school day or requiring additional costs in buses and drivers.

The committee presented potential scenarios to the board that would require elementary schools to start earlier.

The survey received responses from 7,465 parents from April 27 to May 5, Raiff said.

Seventy-four percent of parents were aware of medical experts’ recommendations. While 57 percent of families with secondary-level students supported later school start times, there were 47 percent of families with elementary school students that opposed early start times for their children.

Additionally, 36 percent of respondents supported decreasing the length of the high school day to accommodate later middle and high school start times.

“None of that information surprised us in the least,” Raiff said.

He added the survey indicated it was not desirable to spend significant dollars to increase the district’s fleet of buses and drivers to ensure all students start school between 8 to 8:30 a.m. each day. And there was also no interest in going to voters, Raiff said.

“When we need two mills a year, every year to just keep up with growth that’s a difficult concept because we have to push, start pushing any future levy to a much bigger number than is desirable,” he said.

The survey results were disappointing for the Continuous Improvement Committee and its chairwoman, Tonya Harris.

“It’s a small setback,” she said. But the committee will continue to tweak its proposal starting with elementary school start times.

“I think we can come up with some other alternatives for start time,” she said.

By Brandon Klein

[email protected]

Gazette reporter Brandon Klein can be reached by email or on Twitter at @brandoneklein.

Gazette reporter Brandon Klein can be reached by email or on Twitter at @brandoneklein.