Charleston School Board approves earlier start times for six middle schools

The Charleston County School Board approved a plan Monday to move up the school day at six middle schools in West Ashley, North Charleston and Johns Island. Grace Beahm/Staff

After years of waiting, teachers, parents and students wanting an earlier school day at six Charleston County middle schools finally got their wish.

The Charleston County School Board Monday voted 8-1 to approve a new bell schedule for schools in North Charleston, Johns Island and West Ashley. Board member Michael Miller voted against the measure, saying he wasn’t sold on the details of the plan.

Parents and teachers have been urging the board for years to change the start time at Haut Gap, Northwoods, Morningside, West Ashley, Zucker and C.E. Williams middle schools, saying those schools start later than every other middle school in the district.

A handful of students and teachers urged the board Monday to make the change, saying that late start and dismissal times impact everything from grading homework sooner to giving students more free time after school.

“By the time some of our kids get to their (bus) stops it can be 6 p.m.,” said Zucker Middle teacher Kaitlin Mosseri. “Some of our students have younger brothers and sisters to watch. Some have to prepare dinner. If we don’t give them time to be kids and relax, when will they find the time?”

“I would want no other students to miss out on this opportunity to improve their education,” said West Ashley Middle School eighth-grader Lauren Sheppard.

The new plan will move up the schools’ day from their current start time of around 9 a.m. so they can dismiss earlier than 4 p.m. West Ashley and Johns Island middle schools will start at 7:30 a.m. and dismiss at 2:30 p.m. The North Charleston middle schools will begin at 8:30 a.m. and dismiss at 3:30 p.m.

To accommodate the changes for the middle schools, elementary schools in West Ashley and Johns Island will begin at 8:30 a.m. North Charleston elementary schools will start at 7:30 a.m. High schools in North Charleston will start at 8:30 a.m., while St. John’s and West Ashley high schools will begin between 7:15 a.m. and 7:20 a.m.

Although many elementary school parents opposed an earlier plan, no one complained on Monday.

The new schedule will require 60 more buses and drivers at a cost of around $3 million annually.

The board voted 7-2 to implement the new times for schools on Johns Island when school starts in the fall. Schools in West Ashley and North Charleston will start their new schedules no later than January of next year.

Board members had weighed a plan to delay the new schedule for all the schools until the fall of 2016 to make sure all of the new schools buses and drivers were in place, but most thought the change should start sooner.

Associate Superintendent Paul Padron, who oversees five of the middle schools, which are all high poverty, thanked the board for finally taking action to improve the schedule for his schools.“Get this done as soon as possible,” Padron told the board.

The board was scheduled to vote on the first reading of the 2015-2016 school year budget but instead voted to require district administrators to reorganize to improve efficiencies, reduce failing or ineffective programs and staffing, and place a hiring freeze on all central office staff except for a new director of diversity.

School Board member Tom Ducker, who offered the alternative motion, said those changes could save the district as much as $10 million.

Acting Superintendent Michael Bobby has proposed raising the tax rates for school operations and school debt as a way to help close a $30 million funding gap and pay for the district to buy its own fleet of school buses. Bobby said Monday the tax hike for operations could be lower with new estimates the school district could see up to $9 million more in taxes from higher property assessments. A public hearing on the budget will be held May 27.