Later school start times in Trumbull could spike transportation costs by at least $187,000

TRUMBULL — Later school start times at Trumbull schools could end up raising transportation costs by anywhere from $187,000 to $337,000, a private consultant told the Board of Education this week.

But the costs shake out to less than 25 cents per student, per day, for a change that could have positive benefits, said the consultant, Mike Archer from the Center for Effective School Operations. Archer spoke about the current transportation system and how it could be affected by changing start and dismissal times at the schools.

The Board of Education has long discussed making school start times in the district later. Under the plan, start times at Trumbull High School and the middle schools would be pushed to 8 a.m. from 7:25 and 7:35 respectively. Elementary school starts would get moved from 8:35 to 8:50 a.m. One speaker during the meeting's public comments section said she was in favor of the shift.

"This doesn't go quite as far as some folks in the scientific community are recommending, based on adolescent sleep patterns, but it is going in the right direction, which is great," said town resident and parent Christine El Eris.

Dismissal times would move only slightly on the high school and elementary school level, and not at all on the middle school level. High school dismissal times would move from 2:25 to 2:30 p.m. and at the elementary level it would go from 3:20 to 3:35 p.m. Middle school dismissals will remain at 2:30 p.m.

That's part of what makes the new schedule desirable, Archer said, as it means there will be a minimal impact on after-school sports and other activities.

But, he said, it will affect transportation costs in multiple ways. For one thing, Fairchild Wheeler students rely on a bus that shuttles them from Trumbull High School and with the time change, morning buses will not be synchronized for this transfer. Archer said two buses will need to be added to meet this need. Archer said there is grant money available to fund some of this change, but the cost to the town is still $46,000.

He said the new schedule also will expand the route rates from five hours, to five and a half hours, which will lead to an additional cost of another $141,000. 

The two new costs add up to $187,000. But Archer said there is one more possible wild card. The change could increase ridership and the bus routes are already full, Archer said. This could necessitate the addition of more bus routes, at the cost of $75,000 per route.

Archer said he doesn't see the town needing to add more than two new bus routes. But, if they are both needed, that would add another $150,000 to the transportation costs, bringing the total possible increase to $337,000.

"That's the high end," Archer said.

Board Chair Lucinda Timpanelli thanked Archer for the report. "We'll keep reading and decide how we're going to move forward," she said.