St. Paul schools suggest keeping early start times due to Metro Transit limits

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St. Paul Public School leaders are not recommending pushing back school start times next year because of capacity issues with Metro Transit.

A year-long pilot program and study looked into using Metro Transit buses instead of school buses for the high schools so they could start at 8:30 a.m. instead of 7:30 a.m. – a move that was considered after numerous studies showed students tend to learn better when the school day starts later.

But last month, Metro Transit told St. Paul Public Schools it didn't have enough bus service to expand the pilot program to additional high schools, a news release says.

Pushing back start times at high schools without using Metro Transit buses would force elementary schools to start earlier, or cost the district millions of dollars in additional transportation costs. (Read more about staggering school start times here.)

“I appreciate the collaboration with Metro Transit, however I am disappointed that after more than a year of work and planning, Metro Transit notified SPPS that they could not expand service,” Superintendent Valeria Silva said in the news release. “Though we did not learn this until mid-September, I remain hopeful that we can continue to work together and find a solution.”

Metro Transit would need 20 additional buses to provide service to each high school route, but the agency's east metro garage doesn't have the capacity to keep and maintain any additional buses, the release says. Metro Transit has plans to add an additional garage in downtown Minneapolis, but doesn't have the $70-$100 million needed to expand, MPR News reports.

This frustrated some board members, who were under the impression Metro Transit was capable of making this busing program, the Star Tribune reports.

The school board is scheduled to make a final decision on school start times at its Nov. 11 meeting, MPR News says. School officials are recommending keeping current start times at schools and while continuing to work with Metro Transit to expand the program when possible, the release notes.

Pilot program at Johnson HS

School leaders are recommending the pilot program – an 8:30 a.m. start time and the use of Metro Transit buses – continue at Johnson Senior High School after early evidence showed positive results, the news release says.

Principal Michael Thompson says teachers are reporting students are more engaged during morning classes and more students are participating in after-school activities.

“Students have said that they are able to stay after school for tutoring sessions and to meet with teachers,” said Thompson said, according to the news release. “And they no longer have to worry about missing the school bus."

The St. Paul school district is working with the University of Minnesota to study the impact of a later start time at the high school.

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