CMS group: Shorten elementary school days, start middle schools earlier

A Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools task force recommended Monday a shorter elementary school day, changes that would reverse an unpopular money-saving measure taken after the economic recession crimped the school system’s budget.

The task force also pushed for an earlier start for middle schools and asked the school system to study the possibility of a later start time for high schools. The recommendations will be presented to Superintendent Heath Morrison, who will make a final decision after further discussion with the task force.

CMS went to a tiered school bus schedule several years ago when the recession forced severe cuts in school spending. Before, elementary, middle and high schools started at roughly the same times. The new schedule required a wider range of starting and ending times. That allowed the school system to cut the number of buses and bus drivers, with nearly all buses running routes for two schools each day. Elementary school teachers also were asked to teach an extra 45 minutes each day.

Bill Anderson, executive director of the education support organization MeckEd and a member of the committee, said the changes saved about $4 million, or about 80 teaching positions.

The changes proved unpopular among teachers. In an April survey of CMS parents, students and staff, 88 percent of elementary school teachers saw no value in the extra 45 minutes in the elementary school day, and 80 percent said their morale has deteriorated.

Jamie Brooks, principal for Community House Middle School, said at least 17 teachers have left her school in the past few years because of the late bell schedule.

She said it is difficult for teachers with child care or other responsibilities at home to work with the current schedule.

The April survey also showed that parents disagreed with the later end times by a 2-1 margin.

Susan Plaza, a CMS parent and task force member, has been leading the push for three years to persuade Morrison to move to an earlier bell schedule and a shorter elementary school day.

She said her children in elementary school are exhausted by the end of the day and that they have little time to complete homework or participate in other activities.

“You have to make a choice,” she said. “Have them stay in school for an extra 45 minutes or let them have a balanced life.”

In a separate proposal, Melody Sears, principal at Northwest School of the Arts, recommended testing new schedules at small groups of schools before making wholesale changes to the CMS bell schedule.

She proposed a pilot program at the elementary, middle and high school levels and then a study of the results.

“I would like to have more data before I suggest that we start throwing more tax dollars at it,” she said.