This fall, Galway Central School District students will all ride the same buses together — kindergartners up front, seniors in the back.
The change will allow elementary students to start their day at 8 a.m., the same time as secondary students, and take advantage of what studies have shown is the most productive time of day for young pupils, said interim Superintendent William Scott.
“The block of learning time which is crucial in the morning time runs right into lunchtime,” he said.
With the change, elementary school students will have three hours of instruction before lunch.
But some parents fear the change will expose younger students to behavior they shouldn’t be seeing at their age.
“There’s also the language issue. The kids are going to be coming home and saying, ‘What does this mean?’ ” said Harold “Eric” Fajans, a Galway resident and father of an 11-year-old who rides the bus. Fajans is one of seven people running for three seats on the school board in Tuesday’s elections.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea,” he said. “The folks that I’ve talked to don’t think it’s a good idea.”
Fajans said he would have liked to see the district ask for more public input before making the decision, perhaps in the form of a survey or a special public forum devoted to that issue.
Scott said the administration and the school board studied the issue for more than a year; it was originally conceived as something that might be done last fall. The process included having a consultant study the issue for the district.
Behavior was considered. In the last three to four years of data on behavioral issues on the buses, there were few problems overall, he said. And parents might be surprised to learn who the culprits were.
“More than half of them were referrals for elementary children,” Scott said.
The shift is expected to save the district about $70,000 next year in fuel, tires and wear and tear on the buses, as well as about $200,000 over the next few years by replacing six current buses with four new ones, if voters approve a bus proposition Tuesday, said Tim Hilker, school business administrator.
Fewer buses are needed because of the district’s declining enrollment and because many of the current buses carry few children. “We’re maximizing the ridership,” Hilker said.
Right now, bus drivers each make two runs in the morning and two in the afternoon, using the same buses to pick up students in grades 7-12 first and then those in kindergarten through sixth grade about an hour later.
The junior/senior high school starts its day around 8 a.m., while the first bell at the elementary school rings about 9 a.m.
For Angelique Horvath of Galway, the change is a matter of perspective: If the district can cut some costs by consolidating bus runs rather than cutting educational programs, that’s a positive.
During budget planning last year, the district’s financial situation was so tight, officials discussed cutting upper-level science classes.
“To me, the pros outweigh the cons, but I guess we’ll have to see how it develops,” said Horvath, whose children are in kindergarten, second and third grades this year.
She said she understands why parents would be afraid, especially those who have children going into kindergarten next year. But she believes the younger children will be safe, since they will be separated by age on each bus and monitored by video cameras installed on the buses.
An 8 a.m. start sounds a little early to Horvath, who gets her children up at 7 a.m. to catch the bus at 8:35.
“What I had hoped when they were discussing this whole proposal is that they would have chosen a time in between the two,” she said.
Many children have much longer rides than the 10 minutes it takes her children to get to school, so they’ll have to get up sometime after 6 a.m., Fajans said.
“I’ve had [young] kids, and that’s just super early,” he said.
The state Department of Education recommends on its website that school districts aim for two bus runs in the morning and two in the afternoon to save money by having fewer vehicles. But it has no requirement for multiple bus runs, said department spokesman Jonathan Burman.
Also in the Galway Central School District, a search for a new superintendent continues after two groups of stakeholders — including parents, teachers, administrators, community members, support staff and a student — decided neither of two selected finalists was a good match for the district, according to the district budget newsletter that went out to residents last week.
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