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With students on the move, district deals with schedules

Lake Oswego School Board members have reviewed various scenarios for new starting and ending times and improved their understanding of how the district's programs work.

With both Bryant and Uplands elementary schools closing and sixth-graders moving to reconfigured middle schools next year, the school district faces the challenge of setting schedules that fit families' lifestyles while using a limited number of available buses.

The discussion is part of the second phase of a plan to maximize facility use and save money. An Oct. 24 meeting was meant to prepare the board to make future decisions about how to align all of the moving parts of the school district.

'We want you to understand this now so that when we go to this in the future, you understand the basic constraints,' Superintendent Bill Korach said. 'This is background information.'

While the goal is to start high school classes later and elementary earlier in the day, there are a number of barriers to making that happen. Because the school day is a different length for elementary, middle school and high school students, starting each level at its ideal time causes conflicts with the availability of buses at the end of the day.

The district now uses 36 buses from First Student and has about 1,000 students ride the bus each day. High school and middle school runs take at least 30 minutes, while elementary runs take 60 minutes. If the timing is not right in next year's schedules, bus drivers could be forced to sit idle between routes, which would cost about $140,000 more than what the district currently pays. Since the state reimburses the district for 70 percent of its transportation costs, the district would actually only pay $50,000 of that, explained Finance Director Stuart Ketzler.

To add buses to the fleet, transportation costs would increase by almost $47,000 per route or about $14,000 per route after the state payments are factored in. Ketzler suggested 18 more buses would, therefore, cost about $250,000 for the district.

The state reimbursements are fairly certain because there are no questions asked about the reason for transportation cost increases.

School board member Bob Barman questioned how the discussion is starting without a clearer picture of how many bus routes will be needed for each school after the reconfiguration. The middle schools will gain sixth-graders and elementary schools will lose one grade, likely requiring a different distribution of buses.

But school administrators told him that they can't deliver that level of context yet.

The new middle school configuration could also change one of the perceived barriers in the schedule discussion: The elementary strings and band programs.

Two years ago, when the district considered starting elementary school earlier, it concluded that it would hurt the early morning band and strings programs, which require buses to pick students up in the morning and take them back to their neighborhood schools after class. In order to change the high school schedule to an earlier start time, band and strings would have to start earlier than the current 7:45 a.m. start time or move to after school.

However, at least the beginning band program will likely take a different form next year anyway. Currently, there is one class on each side of the lake with mostly sixth-graders and some seventh-graders if they have no prior experience.

With the move to middle school, sixth-graders could take band during the regular class schedule. However, teachers have pointed out that might limit what other electives band students can take, and therefore could cause students to pass on band or orchestra.

Korach suggested that the program could fit into the school's zero period at the beginning of the day, which is an optional shorter period before the students start their regular 95-minute block classes.

This leaves the strings program, which is offered at an even younger age. Currently, fourth-graders receive strings lessons, while fifth-and sixth-graders play in the orchestra. In the past, the option of offering the class after school was discussed, but teachers don't like that option because many of them teach private lessons in the afternoons. Additionally, an afternoon slot forces the program to compete with after-school sports.

Because both band and strings are programs that begin building at an early age, an early lack of participation could affect the whole band and orchestra program.

Another problem still looms if the goal is to get high school to start later. Currently, teens are out of school at 2:40 p.m. Starting later would adversely affect athletes.

Not only would it be difficult to get enough field or gym time for each team's practice before the evening's end, but younger athletes often leave class early anyway to attend events in the Three Rivers League, explained Korach. Making a later schedule only means that those athletes will miss more school.

Barman asked the administration to collect more information from the sports community about how schedule changes would affect their programs.

Another piece in the puzzle is the possibility of a new daily schedule at the middle level. Though the junior highs just transitioned to six-period block schedules two years ago, a subcommittee is studying a few alternatives that could be implemented once the sixth-graders are added to the schools.