Catholic school may start at 7:45 to save bus funds
More than 9,000 Catholic elementary school students in East Baton Rouge Parish could be starting their school day at 7:45 a.m. next year, 45 minutes earlier than this year, in a change expected to save the public school system $2 million a year, officials said.
Under a tentative agreement reached with the East Baton Rouge Parish school system, Catholic elementary schools would start earlier in order to allow the parish’s public school system to continue to provide bus service for the approximately 4,400 Catholic school students who are eligible to ride the bus.
The agreement would have no impact on the start times for students who attend East Baton Rouge Parish’s public schools, said Chris Trahan, the parish’s director of communications. East Baton Rouge Parish school start times would remain unchanged — 7:10 a.m. for middle and high schools, 8:25 for elementary schools, Trahan said.
Melanie Verges, superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Baton Rouge, said the change would affect Catholic school students in kindergarten through the eighth grades.
Catholic elementary schools have begun their school days at 8:30 a.m. since 1992, when they changed their start times after a similar request from parish school officials, Verges said.
Under the agreement, the 12 Catholic elementary schools that use the buses would dismiss students at 2:45 p.m., Verges said.
Trahan said the arrangement would allow the parish’s public school system to cut about 50 bus drivers from the payroll, saving $2 million. The East Baton Rouge Parish School System is facing a projected $30 million budget shortfall for 2012-2013, Trahan said.
The number of drivers cut is roughly equivalent to the number needed to serve the Catholic elementary schools, Trahan said. Adjusting start times allows the system to use fewer drivers to transport the same number of students, he said.
East Baton Rouge Parish uses about 450 buses to transport middle and high school students and about 500 to transport elementary students, Trahan said.
The reduction in drivers would be accomplished by not replacing drivers who quit or retire, Trahan said.
Verges said Catholic school principals, in concert with each school’s pastor, will solicit input on the new start time from parents and then decide whether or not to go along with the new schedule, Verges said.
If a school decides not to change its start time, it could have to forgo use of the parish’s buses, she said.
“I think most of our schools will make the adjustment,” Verges said.
The agreement was forged during the course of two meetings between the two groups, said Barbara Freiburg, president of the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board. The first meeting was held May 3 and was a “brainstorming session,” she said.
“We met a couple of weeks ago to look at what possibilities there were for finding the $2 million we needed to save on transportation,” Freiburg said. “We wanted to try to find a way to solve the problem and continue services for Catholic students,” she said.
Both sides characterized the meetings as positive, saying there was a reversal in tone from similar meetings held a year ago.
“Last year, there was a proposal that all of our elementary schools in Baton Rouge change times from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.,” Verges said. “We felt that was too late for elementary kids.”
The positive tenor made it possible for both sides to compromise, Verges said.
“We had two very good meetings with the interim superintendent, president and other members of the board,” Verges said.
Freiburg said, “It has been one of the most successful endeavors that I have been engaged in while on the board. We appreciate their making some concessions and in turn we made some concessions.”
A presentation about the agreement is on the agenda for Thursday’s East Baton Rouge Parish School Board meeting, though no action is required.