Grass Valley School District assesses impacts of Nevada Joint Union High School District’s later start time |

Grass Valley School District assesses impacts of Nevada Joint Union High School District’s later start time

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

Increased Cost Proposed scenario

+345,000 No change to 11 current bus routes or GVSD school start times

+177,000 Nine bus routes; no change to GVSD start times

+140,000 Nine bus routes; GVSD and NCSD would alter start times

+110,000 Nine bus routes; GVSD K-4 schools and 5-8 schools would have different start times

+56,000 Nine bus routes; GVSD, NCSD and PVUESD would alter start times

+31,000 Nine bus routes; GVSD and PVUESD would alter start times

Cost-neutral GVSD shares bus routes with NJUHSD; GVSD alters start time

In May 2015, the Nevada Joint Union High School District Board of Trustees voted unanimously for a later start at its two biggest schools, moving the first bell from 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. at Bear River and Nevada Union high schools, starting in fall 2016.

The board’s action was a clear statement: The district was willing to absorb the impact of that decision — including paying more for bus service, undertaking negotiations with its teachers association and dedicating staff time to plan the new school day schedule — in support of a growing body of research from organizations like the American Society of Pediatrics that link a later first bell with physical and mental health benefits for teens.

But, in the months since the board vote, it’s also become clear that the decision won’t only impact the high school district. As a result of the high school schedule change, the Grass Valley School District must revamp its own bus plan, a move that could impact school schedules, and will likely come at an increased cost of tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars to the district, officials say.

Diverting funding from students and programs in order to maintain its current level of home-to-school transportation is a tough pill for the district to swallow, said Superintendent Eric Fredrickson.

“This would really take the wind out of our sails, to have to spend that amount of money to really get nothing for it,” Fredrickson said.

Costs of change?

When the high school district makes the switch to the 8:30 a.m. start time, it will no longer be able to share buses with the Grass Valley and Pleasant Ridge Union school districts — a cost-saving measure for all three districts that’s been in place for years.

The change won’t have much of an impact on Pleasant Ridge, which shares just two bus routes with the high school district, and plans to consolidate those routes next year, said Rusty Clark, superintendent for the Pleasant Ridge school district.

That’s not the case for Grass Valley’s school district, which shares 11 bus routes with the high school district. Earlier this school year, Fredrickson went to the drawing board with Durham Transportation, which currently provides the district’s bus services, and began examining bus plans for the 2016-2017 school year — and it quickly became obvious there was no simple solution.

The district currently pays around $351,000 annually for transportation; it will likely need to pay anywhere from an additional $31,000 to $345,000 starting next year.

Though the Grass Valley School District likely won’t have to cut existing programs to close that gap, Fredrickson said the increased costs could hinder the future growth of its programs and stall the implementation of new initiatives the district has been eyeing, such as developing its STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics) Academy, adding classroom support aides or scheduling additional professional development for its teachers.

“It would stop the future planning we have in our Local Control Accountability Plan,” Fredrickson said, referring to state-required plan district puts together to project spending, services and goals.

Pursuing one of the less-expensive scenarios would soften the financial blow to the district, but those scenarios come with the additional challenge of altering school schedules; some options have the school day starting as early as 7:15 a.m., or has the district splitting start times for its K-4 schools and its 5-8 school.

Several cost-effective options would have Grass Valley sharing buses with the Nevada City and Penn Valley Union Elementary school districts. But that collaboration would likely require all three districts to alter their start times, with Grass Valley starting anywhere from 15-30 minutes later, and the other two districts starting anywhere from 10-20 minutes earlier.

It’s something both the Nevada City and Penn Valley school districts are considering, because it would save each district money — about $60,000 annually for Nevada City, and about $65,000 annually for Penn Valley.

That amount might not seem particularly significant, said Torie England, the superintendent of the Penn Valley school district — but it would go a long way to help combat her district’s deficit spending, especially when combined with other cost-cutting measures.

“Any amount of money in the five figures, it adds up really quickly,” England said.

But coming to an agreement isn’t simple. Before altering start times, both the Nevada City and Penn Valley districts would need to gather community feedback — and get the change approved by its teachers associations.

That means in order to keep those sharing options on the table, the Grass Valley School District will likely have to be flexible — perhaps pushing its start time as late as 9:30 a.m. to decrease the impact on the other school districts’ schedules, Fredrickson said.

Delayed reaction?

Altered schedules, on top of increased costs, could be a tough sell to the Grass Valley School District community. Several parents expressed a variety of concerns about the scenarios at a Feb. 3 district-hosted community forum to explain the impending transportation changes — including questioning whether the high school district had done enough to solicit input from the Grass Valley community before moving forward with the schedule change.

However, Louise Johnson, the superintendent of the high school district, said her district’s plan has been clearly communicated.

She noted that Fredrickson was looped into discussions in fall 2014, when the high school district began seriously considering the change. The high school district also held a town hall meeting on the topic last April to solicit community input, though, at the time, the projected impact on the Grass Valley School District obtained by the high school district — between $70,000-$150,000 — was significantly lower than the current projected impact.

Johnson said the possible effects of the change on the high school district’s feeder districts was one reason she recommended to her board that the change be implemented at the start of the 2016 school year, to give those districts more time to plan.

“We’ve been as transparent as possible,” Johnson said.

Fredrickson said the high school district was “very timely” in talking with him about the proposed schedule change. However, he said even after the high school board voted last spring to approve the change, he felt there were still “so many unknowns” — including the fact that the high school district hadn’t reached an agreement with its teachers association on the issue — that he was reluctant to bring the issue up to the Grass Valley School District community.

“I was doubting they were going to move forward,” he said.

In hindsight, Fredrickson said, both the high school and Grass Valley School District communities would have benefited from being informed about the issue simultaneously last spring.

“[The high school district was] focused on their stakeholders, and they probably relied on me to focus on my stakeholders, and it might have been more helpful if we had done a joint effort together and engaged the community together,” Fredrickson said.

Now, the Grass Valley School District’s efforts to engage stakeholders are well under way. Fredrickson is in the process of sending out surveys about the options to staff and parents, and he continues to communicate regularly with England and Trisha Dellis, superintendent of the Nevada City School District; he said his district should be able to narrow down the list of transportation options over the next several weeks.

Fredrickson stressed that the relationship between his district and the high school district remains strong — both districts, he said, are just trying to do what’s best for students.

“I support what they want to do,” Fredrickson said. “I’m just trying to deal with the impact of it.”

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

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