School board reverses start times stance

December 12, 2018 GMT

Ridgefield High School students won’t be setting their alarm clocks an hour later next year.

The Board of Education has voted to throw out a decision it made in October 2017 to implement later start times for the 2019-20 school year.

“I think you heard the board saying that at some point this could come back ... but not at this point, not for 2019-20,” said Chairwoman Margaret Stamatis, who confirmed the board will not vote on start times again during the 2018-19 school year.

“It’s not an easy decision,” she said.

Members of the board voted 6-1 to rescind the 2017 motion on start times, with board member Carina Borgia-Drake casting the sole vote against. Board members Jonathan Steckler and Vice Chairman Doug Silver were both absent from the meeting Monday.

Stamatis said the current start times at the district’s nine schools will remain in place.

Board Secretary Kathleen Holz said the board received 114 emails against later school start times and 18 emails for the proposed change.

At Monday night’s meeting, 13 residents gave public comment — 10 were against the later start times initiative, three in favor.

“There are a myriad of issues that need to be resolved,” said Stephen Cole, a substitute teacher and coach at RHS.

He argued that with later end times as a result of starting an hour later, student athletes would have to leave class early to attend games.

“Educational excellence is achieved in the classroom, not in the back of the bus,” Cole said. “Putting students between teachers and their coaches is unconscionable.”

Others cited the lack of a permanent superintendent.

“Why would we approve an initiative like this without a superintendent?” said Pond Road resident Bryan Ward.

He also raised concern about the potential impact on sports, after-school programs, and local businesses who depend on high school student employees.

“As a parent, a coach, and a taxpayer, I’m not buying it,” Ward said.

The board also cited concerns about the cost of the project.

A scenario the board asked the superintendent’s office to investigate at an Oct. 22 meeting would have cost an estimated $2.77 million.

“I believe the science … but I cannot at this point agree to $2.7 million being taken out of our children’s education at this time,” said Holz.

“The cost is just tremendous,” said board member Jim Keidel. “I’d rather see those resources go to curriculum, or repairing buildings, or paying teachers, or things that we can see something tangible.”

Five elementary schools would have started at 8 a.m. under that proposed scenario.

But according to School Bus Consultants, the consultants hired by the board to come up with new busing plans for later start times, shifting only those five early-start elementary schools back by 10 minutes would drop the cost to $1.58 million — a savings of almost $1.2 million.

Danbury Road resident Lisa Moore said the schools needed to focus on asbestos removal at Scotland and the removal of underground oil storage tanks at Veterans Park Elementary and East Ridge Middle School — both projects included in the board’s capital improvements request.

Moore called the start times project “fiscally irresponsible.”

But not all were against the change.

“We need to move forward with this,” said Jessica Mancini, the current vice chairwoman of the Ridgefield Board of Finance.

“[The] extra hour of sleep is invaluable,” said Louzette Dovaras, a Barrack Hill Road resident. She argued that the board’s “investments in other areas” will not get their “return on investment” if kids aren’t getting adequate sleep.