The St. Paul School District’s hopes for pushing back start times at two more high schools next year were put in jeopardy Tuesday when it was revealed Metro Transit could not make it happen.
“I am very frustrated and very disappointed,” Board Member Jean O’Connell said.
She was led to believe by a former Metro Transit official, she said, that the plan was workable until the agency informed the district in mid-September that it lacked the bus storage capacity to transport more students.
“To hear that Metro Transit could not support us — it’s not my version of the truth,” O’Connell said.
Adam Harrington, director of service development for Metro Transit, told board members at a committee meeting Tuesday that while it was true the agency intended to help expand later starts beyond a current pilot program at Johnson Aerospace & Engineering High School on the city’s East Side, there had been no guarantee that, yes, “we’re going to do it.”
A year ago, a divided board agreed to delay a proposal to shift high school start times from 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m., beginning in the 2015-16 school year due, in large part, to strong opposition from elementary school parents. The move would have required many kindergartners to fifth-graders to start school at 7:30 a.m. — two hours earlier than some do now.
The district has wanted to capitalize on research that shows student performance rises, and absences and tardiness decline, when teens get more sleep.
After the board put off the citywide move, the district and Metro Transit agreed to partner on a pilot program at Johnson. Early reports indicate an uptick in participation in after-school events and greater alertness during morning classes, the district said.
The school board plans to take final action on a 2016-17 school start plan in November, and the recommendation now before it calls for the 8:30 a.m. start to remain in place at Johnson and for the district to continue working with Metro Transit and revisit expansion possibilities later.
District administrators, however, plan to take a deeper look in coming weeks at other possibilities for 2016-17.
Where the district is headed is unclear, but there was no mistaking the frustration with Metro Transit.
“I really thought we had a willing partner,” Board Member Anne Carroll said. “I’m not hearing that today … I feel really misled.”