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Later Start Time Could Be Expensive for Ohio County Schools

If Ohio County Schools wants to shift school start times, one study said the district would need 25 more buses, plus more drivers and mechanics, to make it work. (File Photo)

WHEELING — Preliminary information indicates if Ohio County Schools wanted to implement later school start times in the district, it would be a seven-figure investment.

According to OCS operations administrator David Crumm, the district would need to purchase an additional 25 buses at about $105,000 each, as well as hire 25 more drivers and two more mechanics. There would also be additional costs for fuel, and a need for additional space to store the buses, he said.

Crumm, while addressing Ohio County Board of Education members last week, referenced data from a bus route logistics study conducted last fall by Education Logistics Inc. It was a preliminary study, and a more in-depth review could be done if the school district were to purchase the firm’s software at about $120,000 to determine the most efficient bus routes, he said.

Crumm’s words came after board member Molly Aderholt gave a presentation to her fellow members in favor of later start times.

She cited information from the Centers for Disease Control indicating school students are largely sleep deprived, and later school start times can benefit them. Coming to school later has resulted in better physical and mental health for students, as well as improved academic performance, according to Aderholt.

The American Academy of Pediatrics also recognizes insufficient sleep in adolescents as an important public health issue as affecting the health and safety of youth and “the academic success of our nation’s middle and high school students,” she said.

The school day currently starts at 7:20 a.m. at Wheeling Park High School, and Aderholt suggests a start time of 8:30 a.m. at WPHS would be best. Start times at the middle schools and elementary schools would be adjusted accordingly based on bus routes.

Education Logistics has provided information to the school district determining how many bus runs would be needed and how many additional buses based on later start times were adjusted. These were based on current bus routes that currently pick up high school, middle school and elementary schools separately, Crumm said.

The data showed Ohio County Schools would need a total of 56 regular education buses to complete the task, and the school district currently has 31, he said.

“I think we all agree sleep is very important for our students,” Crumm said. “But this gives an idea of what we would look at.”

While no one disputes a later start time might be better for students, the logistics of determining how to arrange bus schedules remains an issue, according to Board President David Croft.

The school district has had difficulty attracting qualified individuals to drive their buses, and he questioned whether Ohio County Schools could even find another 25 bus drivers in the community.

Aderholt asked if the school district would be reimbursed for any money spent on purchasing additional school buses. Business manager Steven Bieniek said it would after two years, but the issue of paying start-up costs upfront was a major expense.

“Although there are costs in doing this, there are also health savings costs,” said board member Grace Norton. She said students driving to school in the early morning without enough sleep are more prone to traffic accidents.

Board member Pete Chacalos, a retired teacher, questioned whether students would get more sleep if the school day started later. He suspects the day would just shift forward an hour for them, and they would get to bed an hour later at night.

Board member Christine Carder said the school district needs more information regarding bus route alignment before making a decision.

“After seeing the presentation on the bus logistic assistance, we cannot make a decision unless we purchase the software and allow them to do what needs to be done to see how our buses run, where they run, and then we can tweak it. There’s nothing we can do until we get a firm picture of what is going on in the county.”

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