Children in the southern Wood River Valley this week arrived to school earlier than usual. The school district implemented a new school schedule Tuesday, Oct. 3, with elementary, middle and high school start and release times shifting to earlier in the day.
The Blaine County School District board of trustees decided to modify school schedules and change bus routes after mounting pressure arose on the district's busing system. The board made the decision Friday, Sept. 15, during a special meeting. The board's decision has raised concerns among some parents.
"There was no room for public comment ... I think they really left a lot of people in a lurch," said Sandy Kelly, a working mother. She said parents and extra-curricular organizations did not have time to adjust their schedules to the change.
The school day for Bellevue, Woodside and Hailey elementary schools changed by half an hour on Tuesday, with the morning bell ringing at 8 a.m. and the release time set at 2:30 p.m.
"It's actually much smoother today than it was the first day of school," said Angie Martinez, Bellevue Elementary principal.
Blaine County officials made the decision to change the schedule and bus routes in light of the fact that some students were spending nearly two hours riding the school bus. This year, the district shifted to neighborhood schools, which increased busing needs and resulted in longer bus routes. With the changes, the average time that students ride the bus should decrease by more than 15 minutes per student.
As a concerned parent, Kelly recognizes there is a problem but disagrees with the way the board went about making a decision.
"Everything lacked proper communication with the community," Kelly said.
She has collected approximately 100 signatures in a petition to the school board. "We are requesting the school board rescind the decision and reassess the situation," she said.
When asked about the concerns among parents, Jim Lewis, Blaine County School District superintendent, said, "When it's a concept or change that we would like to make, or would be nice to consider, we always ask for public input. When it's a change we have to make because of the health and welfare of the children and because it's the best opportunity for children to succeed in the school day, those are made by the school board. It's their responsibility."
The September meeting was the district's first public meeting to address the busing situation and school schedules.
"We had a situation that demanded our immediate action. As trustees, we are required to take action for the health and welfare for our students. That's really what it is about, the greater good," said Julie Dahlgren, a school board trustee.
Dahlgren made the motion that was unanimously approved by the board to change the routes and school times. Trustee Alex Sundali did not attend the meeting.
"When you have students who are riding buses 275 hours a day, and you can make a change to eliminate that, then the superintendent and the board have to be strong enough to do what's right for children," Lewis said.
Presidents of the Woodside, Bellevue and Hailey Elementary Parent Teacher Associations said they were not consulted about the district's intention to change school schedules until after the decision was made.
"We did not have any input. They did not come to us first," said Sheri Thomas, Woodside PTA president.
Thomas and other PTA representatives were informed of the change Monday, Sept. 18, during their regularly scheduled meeting with the district.
"We did not have any prior notice it was coming. It was just done," said Bellevue PTA President Janet Barton.
Notice of the district's special meeting to consider the changes complies with Idaho's open meeting laws. The notice of the special meeting with an agenda action item for the "Approval of Revised Bus Routes" was posted two days before on the front door of the district's office, Wood River Middle School, Hailey Post Office, and at the Community Campus in Hailey.
"We went through the same process we do for every board meeting or special meeting," Lewis said.
Cathy Zaccardi, clerk of the board, said the district also mailed or e-mailed copies of the meeting notice to various groups and posted the agenda on its Web site. The district lists the date, the agenda and a synopsis of all school board meetings there.
"The burden is on us to have better communication with the school board," said Hailey PTA co-chair Elisabeth Schwerdtle. "It just helps everyone to have better communication ... I feel like the communication needs to be worked on, on both sides."