Faced with $94 million in state budget cuts and higher operating costs for its bus system, the Orange County School District flipped classroom hours this fall for high schools and middle schools. The move saved the district $5.7 million in transportation costs but drew criticism from parents who had to rework their family schedules.
Orange County Schools
» 1,000 buses
» 4,300 routes
» 25,000 bus stops
» 166,457 students
» 88,000-89,000 bus riders
By reorganizing and condensing routes (along with having about 600 fewer students), the district cut back by 93 buses, says Nicholas Gledich, chief operations officer for the Orange County Public Schools. The county typically uses 16,000 gallons of fuel a day.
Buses can start operating later in the morning because the district is saving its largest routes — for high schools — until later in the day. Middle schools now start first, opening at 7:30 a.m.; elementary schedules start at 8:45 a.m.; and high schools begin at 9:30 a.m.
Businesses haven’t publicly weighed in on the decision. A spokeswoman for Oerther Foods, which operates 20 McDonald’s restaurants in the area, said it was too soon to see how the schedule change would affect its employees. An umbrella association of parent-teacher groups, Orange County Council PTA, also hasn’t taken an official stance.
But some parents openly criticized the swap when it was announced, saying the school board made the decision without enough community input. On a blog site collecting petition signatures, parents expressed specific worries: Middle school children standing at dark bus stops in the morning and then coming home to empty houses in the afternoon; high schoolers having to give up after-school jobs, leaving campus during rush-hour and losing two hours of study time in the afternoon.
Other parents, however, have said the flip makes sense for teenagers whose body clocks are more geared toward p.m. hours and younger children who naturally wake up earlier.
The county is working to resolve individual issues and has instituted other changes to help families cope: “Zero period” classes that start before the day’s official schedule and allow students with jobs to leave campus earlier; sports practices in the morning instead of the afternoon; and preteen after-school programs that start an hour earlier.