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District: Postponing start times at Clark County schools could cost up to $145M

The district, which has opposed a change designed to improve teen sleep times, said it could reduce busing to offset new expenses.
Rocio Hernandez
Rocio Hernandez
EducationK-12 Education
school buses

As the State Board of Education works to finalize a proposed regulation on school start times, the Clark County School Board is considering potentially pricey changes to comply with the possible mandate, including cutting busing for certain students and starting classes as late as 10 a.m. 

The proposal is part of an effort by State Board of Education President Felicia Ortiz to push back school start times, particularly at the high school level, to address sleep deprivation among teens. 

Adhering to that policy drew pointed comments at a Clark County School Board meeting on Thursday, with students, teachers and trustees raising concerns that the district may end up cutting transportation services or spending millions of dollars to comply with the mandate.

“They think that we can absorb these costs when in reality we cannot and (the Nevada Department of Education is) not paying for it, they're not working with the county commission or the city boards, they're not going to work with the governor's office for it,” Trustee Katie Williams said during the meeting. 

At least one critic — Vicki Kreidel, president of the National Education Association of Southern Nevada and a teacher at a magnet elementary school — said she believed the district presented a possible transportation reduction to rile up the public and pit them against the state board. 

“It alarmed our families and could hurt our recruitment,” she said. “It's wrong to do that to the communities.”

She cited the State Board of Education’s Sept. 8 meeting where CCSD General Counsel Luke Puschnig said the district would take all steps, including litigation, to block the proposed regulation. 

In a Friday statement, the district said the information was presented at the Thursday board to bring more clarity and awareness on the proposed regulation, which it called “rushed” and an “enormous unfunded mandate.”

“Southern Nevada families are unaware of this proposal and the impacts such a decision will have on students, student transportation, extracurricular activities, workers, employers, and traffic patterns,” the district said in its statement. 

Start time changes

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, shifts in adolescents’ biological rhythms during puberty cause teens to become sleepy later at night and to need to sleep later in the morning.

A 2014 study by the American Academy of Pediatrics concluded that school start times of 8:30 a.m. or later would benefit teen students’ physical and mental health, safety and academic achievement. 

The state board’s regulation is not finalized. Under the most recent draft, public schools that begin prior to 8 a.m. would be required to provide alternative options to families and students aimed at addressing potential negative impacts of early start times on student health, well-being, and academic performance — though the draft doesn’t specify what those options could look like. 

If the regulation is approved by the state board — which develops statewide education policy goals and sets the vision for student achievement — it could take effect as early as next school year, though implementation would be gradual. 

The Clark County School District (CCSD) and superintendents across the state have opposed the proposal over concerns about unintended consequences. They’ve also argued that decisions on start times should be left up to each school district because they know their communities’ needs best. 

“I want to make sure that we're clear we are not opposing it because of the research — that research is clear on sleep patterns of teenagers and students. What we're concerned with is the operational impact that this will have on our families, on our children, on our staff, and certainly our entire community,” said CCSD Superintendent Jesus Jara, who joined his school board’s Thursday meeting via phone.

The draft regulation includes a waiver that would be available to schools that “face unique challenges in modifying their start times.” But the draft regulation does not outline what requirements would need to be met in order to receive the waiver.

During the Thursday meeting, the Clark County School Board heard preliminary information on three scenarios the district could choose in order to comply with the proposed regulation. The district’s high schools generally start around 7 a.m. while most elementary schools generally start around 9 a.m. Middle schools and some elementary schools start around 8 a.m. 

Under Option A, the school district would push all start times down by one hour, meaning high school classes would begin by 8 a.m. and elementary schools would begin by 10 a.m. Option B would also shift school start times by an hour, but invert the schedule so elementary schools would start at 8 a.m. and high schools would start at 10 a.m. 

Option C would consolidate the district’s bell schedule into two tiers so all high schools and some middle schools start at 8 a.m. and all elementary schools and some middle schools begin at 9:30 a.m. 

Only Option A wouldn’t result in any additional costs. 

District staff said Option B would require about 50 additional buses, and about 50 additional drivers, which could cost more than $11 million initially. Option C would be even more expensive, requiring 450 additional buses, an additional bus facility, 450 additional bus drivers and other resources. Option C has an initial cost of $145 million. 

The options were part of a discussion-only item, meaning the board did not take a vote on the proposals. 

Community reactions

To offset anticipated costs, district staff recommend increasing the walk zone for most students from 2 miles to 5 miles, which would mean it would only offer busing to students who live more than 5 miles away from their school. Another cost-cutting option would be to eliminate transportation options for students in magnet and career and technical schools — a proposal that raised concerns from students at those schools. 

Karen Wu, a student in a magnet program at Clark High School, said such a decision would be “highly inequitable.”

“A specialized education should not be reserved for only those privileged with other means of transportation,” she said. “Getting to interact with bright peers from diverse backgrounds is what has made my own and so many others’ magnet experiences so fulfilling.”

Caleb Castro, a sophomore from Northwest Career and Technical Academy, said he sees Option A — pushing all school start times later by one hour — as the clear and only viable choice. 

“It will cost you nothing,” he said. 

Castro also said he was concerned about the health and safety of students who would have to walk home in the summer heat if the district moves forward with the walk zone increase. 

Cameron Ruse, a CCSD sophomore, said he’s tired after waking up at 5 a.m. every day to get to school on time. He supports later school start times, and cited a study by the RAND Corporation arguing that the positive outcome from such a shift nationwide could outweigh the immediate costs. According to the study, even after two years of implementation, later start times nation could result in an economic gain of $8.6 billion to the U.S. economy by projecting the increase in students’ lifetime earnings due to academic improvements as well as a decrease in car crashes among adolescents, who are part of the country’s future workforce. 

“The question isn’t how can we afford to make this change, it’s how can we afford not to make this change,” he said. 

Kreidel, the president of the National Education Association of Southern Nevada, said she believed the district presented a possible transportation reduction to rile up the public and pit them against the state board. 

During the Sept. 8 meeting, the state board voted to send its draft of the regulation to the state’s Legislative Counsel Bureau, which would bring back a new version of the regulation to the board. The board would then hold a public hearing on the regulation before making a final decision.  


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