Change in start time unlikely for Grass Valley School District |

Change in start time unlikely for Grass Valley School District

Students at Lyman Gilmore Middle School prepared to board buses at the end of the day on Feb. 4 in this archive photo.
Laura Mahaffy/ | The Union

Grass Valley School District parents and students can rest easy — there are likely no significant changes coming to the district’s start time or bus plan for the 2016-2017 school year.

Instead, the school district is “leaning” toward paying an estimated $185,000 or so on top of its current transportation costs to maintain the status quo, said Grass Valley School District Superintendent Eric Fredrickson.

“We’re looking at maintaining our same start time and just finding ways to absorb that increased cost,” Fredrickson said.

The district has spent the last several months re-examining its transportation plan due to a schedule change in the Nevada Joint Union High School District. Beginning in the fall, students at Bear River and Nevada Union high schools will start school at 8:30 a.m. instead of 7:30 a.m.

That means the Grass Valley School District, where schools start at 9 a.m., will no longer be able to share buses with the high school district — an arrangement that has been in place for several years to help both districts save money. The Grass Valley School District currently pays around $350,000 annually to Durham Transportation for bus services.

The high school district schedule change prompted the Grass Valley district to consider several alternative transportation scenarios for the 2016-2017 school year. All of the proposed scenarios carried an increased cost to the district — anywhere from an additional $31,000 annually to an additional $345,000 annually, according to district estimates.

The district also considered several transportation scenarios that had it sharing buses with neighboring districts — including the Nevada City and Penn Valley Union Elementary school districts — in order to mitigate costs. However, many of those proposed scenarios required the Grass Valley School District to alter its start time, including options that had the school day starting as early as 7:15 a.m. or had the district splitting start times for its K-4 schools and its 5-8 school.

The transportation options that required a schedule changed proved unpopular with many of the Grass Valley district parents who showed up to a February district-hosted forum on the topic — a sentiment echoed in parent surveys the district has conducted in recent months, Fredrickson said.

Fredrickson said parents were asked about district priorities as part of the survey, and it was “pretty clear” that more parents valued a convenient start time over decreased transportation costs to the district.

Ultimately, Fredrickson said, “we were afraid we’d lose too many families” if the district were to alter start times.

Fredrickson said the district has budgeted about $185,000 in additional funds to put toward transportation costs. It’s still unclear how much the district will pay for transportation next year; Fredrickson said the district is still finalizing a new contract with Durham Transportation.

Fredrickson said the district will work closely with Durham to see if any routes can be consolidated, which would lower costs.

The district’s finalized transportation plan will be included in its Local Control and Accountability Plan, or LCAP, which must be approved by the district’s board of trustees; the board is expected to review and vote on the LCAP in June.

Fredrickson reiterated the frustration he expressed in February when the district began to dig into alternative transportation scenarios, noting he would have preferred to spend the last several months focusing on the district’s instructional needs, rather than its transportation plan.

“It’s just kind of a lose-lose situation for us,” Fredrickson said.

He added, “It’s just hard to spend that amount of money on the same level of service.”

He noted the anticipated increased transportation expense has affected the way the district is planning for the immediate future; the district isn’t looking at adding any additional programs next year.

However, he said, the district will try to capitalize on the fact that it is no longer sharing buses with the high school district by taking a closer look at the school-year calendar. The district now has more flexibility to tweak its schedule to allow additional time for teacher collaboration or other projects.

“We’re trying to, since this is happening, see what we can do to use it to an advantage,” Fredrickson said.

To contact Staff Writer Emily Lavin, email or call 530-477-4230.

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