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Schools change bell times to save money

School board has received hundreds of complaints over time change

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

Some Oshawa students are going to have to change the time they get up in the morning.

This comes after the Durham District School Board, following a sweeping review of transportation needs and bell times, has approved changes for several schools across the region.

The changes come as a result of streamlining transportation services and routes in order to accommodate more students through bussing while addressing a deficit of funding.

In total, of the region’s 171 schools, 38 require their bell times to be changed. Twenty-eight of those schools are with the DDSB, while the remainder are with the Durham Catholic District School Board.

Of those 38, 27 will see a change of 10 minutes or less. Another seven will see a change of between 15 and 25 minutes while four will see the biggest change, coming in at between 30 and 45 minutes.

The changes have received some strong blowback from the community, especially parents worried about having to take their kids to school earlier, or accommodate their child who starts school later.

In Oshawa specifically, five schools will be seeing slight changes with both Coronation Public School and Eastdale Collegiate starting 10 minutes later, and O’Neill CVI, Sunset Heights Public School and Walter E. Harris Public School starting 10 minutes earlier.

“We recognize that some schools are taking a hit,” says Michael Barrett, the board’s chair and trustee for Oshawa. “We get that and we have certainly heard that.”

Of the comments received during the review, 562 were negative to the change while only 66 were positive.

However, Barrett says the board was between a rock and a hard place as the status quo meant a growing deficit and fewer students receiving transportation to and from school.

“We looked at it from the greater good that said we’re equalizing the bus times with our separate school boards and putting more kids on the bus,” Barrett says. “This has been one of the toughest decisions that we’ve made certainly in recent memory.”

It’s estimated that with the new routes, between 1,562 and 2,144 more kids will be able to receiving bussing.

Three years ago, the DDSB upgraded its allowable walking distance from 3.2 to four kilometres. It was identified that if no change was made at the time, $1.2 million would be needed to continue to transport the growing number of students.

The bell time review, the result of an 18-month process, has streamlined transportation, removed busses from the road and allowed more students to be bussed.

“There was going to be changes, but we preferred to actually look at it a little differently and say if we review all the bell times we can actually put more kids on the bus and deal with the deficit at the same time,” Barrett says.

And while he realizes the burden it can place on parents, and the theorized impact on student performance with earlier start times, it is simply the reality of the situation he says.

“If I could wave the magic wand and have every high school start at 8:30 or later, I don’t think there would be a trustee that would oppose that,” he says. “It just can’t be done, you can’t run an efficient system.”

While the DDSB approved the changes at their meeting on March 20, the DCDSB approved the changes for its respective schools a week later at the board’s meeting on March 27.

“Thanks to our partners at Durham Student Transportation Services for their diligence on this study, creating opportunities to put money back into the classroom, enhance safety for students and improve operational efficiencies,” states John Rinella, the chair of the DCDSB board.