Bridgewater-Raritan Explores Later School Start Times, Busing Changes

BRIDGEWATER, NJ — A transportation consultant hired by the Bridgewater-Raritan Board of Education made a presentation recently looking at ways to create more efficient bus routes, later start times for the high school, and growing the district’s in-house bus fleet.

Mike Archer of the Center for Effective School Operation(CESO) presented his report during the May 9 meeting.

Currently, the district has 81 total buses serving general education, special education and vans. There are 478 individual bus routes performed on multiple tiers. That equals an average of 5.9 routes per bus or one bus performing 3 routes in the morning and 3 routes in the afternoon.

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The buses transport 8,000 students. The average duration of a bus route is 31 minutes or 12 miles traveled.

Right now, there are 5 tiers under the current bell schedule, high school students start at 7:20 a.m. followed by the middle school at 8:10 a.m., primary schools #1 at 8:25 a.m., primary schools #2 at 8:55 a.m., and intermediate at 9:15 a.m.

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Archer offered two alternative bell times to accomplish some of the goals the Board was looking for:

Board member AJ Joshi asked Archer what would be the most optimum solution that other school districts of a similar size have chosen.

“It really helps to keep things in 3 tiers of busing. That’s a very common schedule that larger districts utilize,” said Archer.

Board President Steven Singer reminded the Board that with the implementation of full-day kindergarten, there could be a change in bell times and routes again suggesting they may want to wait to just make the change once.

“It’s something to think about,” said Singer.

Board member Jessice Levitt asked that an advisory committee be formed to include all relevant stakeholders – such as parents, teachers, and athletics – before any decisions are made on the bell changes.

“I think we all understand that these things take some time and we are not talking about doing this for next year,” said Levitt. “But if we want these done right we need to start these up as soon as possible so that we can allow a thorough response from the public and get all the issues on the table before any decision is made.”

A committee had previously been formed in 2020 and was set to explore these changes in March but that was put on hold when the COVID pandemic hit.

“In light of the transportation study… I think it’s a pretty good idea and it’s time to begin the discussion. It’s not going to happen overnight. Maybe in a year or so, but I think it would be a good idea if we can meet,” said Joshi.

Superintendent Robert Beers suggested the committee begin a discussion in September and to ensure all “key constituents” are involved.

“Do we want to switch school times twice or do we want to prep for middle school and then that’s the time to do it?” asked Beers.

He noted that some people when asked if they would be in favor of later high school start times, they would say yes. But he warned about other implications.

“When you see how it affects the other start times and other children in the district people may have a different opinion. And as we go through this we need to take a look at the totality of our decisions because this can affect a lot of folks. Specifically, when implementing a later start time for high school and middle school there are many families who count on older siblings to get younger siblings off the bus,” said Beers.

Board member Langfang “Lucy” Li suggested the Board wait on discussion altogether.

“We have a lot of priorities at this time. I don’t think there is a rush to do it at this time. We have been dealing with … the pandemic and school facilities. I think the urgent need is to address academic achievement,” said Li. “Our board has a limited amount of meeting time and focus. I think we should think about as a whole what is our focus. Whether this is the time to look at school start time.”

The Board agreed to refer the matter to the Community Relations Committee to discuss, create a resolution to form the committee, and create a plan on how to draw stakeholders to the committee.

Watch the full presentation below, it begins around 44:00:

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