St. Paul schools not ready to change start times

Updated: 9:00 p.m. | Posted: 6:50 p.m.

St. Paul Public School officials aren't recommending a shift in start times for older students, despite more than a year of study.

Jackie Statum Allen, the district's assistant director of strategic planning and policy, told the St. Paul School Board Tuesday that Metro Transit doesn't have the capacity to add enough bus service to get students to schools in an acceptable amount of time.

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She said that it would be equally impractical to rearrange conventional school bus service and change start times for younger students. It would be "a lot of change, a lot of instability. It would be unfair and irresponsible for our elementary school families," Statum Allen said in remarks before the meeting.

Adam Harrington, Metro Transit's director of service development, said the agency is limited by its 913-bus fleet and garage capacity. The agency has a plan to add an additional garage in downtown Minneapolis, but doesn't have the estimated $70 to $100 million it needs to expand.

The district began a pilot program this fall, starting Johnson Senior High's day at 8:30 a.m., an hour later than other St. Paul high schools. Around 1,100 Metro Transit bus passes have been handed out to the east side school's approximately 1,300 students.

School staff recommend St. Paul Public Schools continue to look at the issue, although dropping further study is also an option.

The school board and superintendent expressed some frustration with district staff's recommendation.

Superintendent Valeria Silva said that she had discussed the difficulties with Metro Transit, including offering school district garage space, but the transit agency wouldn't commit to participating.

"Where's the equity between Minneapolis and St. Paul?" Silva asked Metro Transit officials. "Wouldn't we have to balance this differently? It really puts us in a hard situation."

Harrington said Minneapolis and St. Paul weren't easily comparable.

"They have some staggered start times, but they also have a different distribution of their schools, relative to our service and we have the capacity, when our buses are serving their school start time, to just connect that trip to our routes," Harrington said. "We had a wider range of work start times that makes it more manageable to connect one trip to another."

School board member Louise Seeba said she'd support a move to change start times absent Metro Transit's participation, which could move up elementary school start times and cost an additional $2 million.

"I'm extremely frustrated," she said.

The school board is expected to make final decisions on school start times and transportation changes at its Nov. 11 meeting.