Scott for Buffalo Schools
The 3-Tiered Bell System
Updated: May 18
May 17, 2023
Last week, the District shared its proposed 3-Tier Bell System to the Board in a Work Session. You can view the presentation here (some start and end times have changed since this presentation and can be found in the second link):
I have heard from many on this topic for the past few months and even more after this proposal was shared. Right now, it seems there are some who are unhappy with the 7:30 a.m. start; however, I have also seen that there are some (teachers) who are happy about this earliest start.
To quantify this, as of now, there are nineteen schools that will have a start time before 8:00 a.m. Of these nineteen, eleven will be 30 minutes earlier than their current start time and one will be 20 minutes earlier, all starting at 7:30 a.m. The remaining six schools will have a start time of 7:40 a.m. Of these, compared to this year, one will be 35 minutes earlier, two will be 20 minutes earlier, three will be 15 minutes earlier, and one will be 10 minutes earlier.
I know there are some who will remain upset with this proposal no matter what is said, but I thought it was necessary to provide some explanation and context with more depth than just a comment on social media. These thoughts are my thoughts only and not those representing the entire board or district.
First, know that my own children in BPS will be impacted by the new 3-tier bell system and new start and end times. My older son will be expected to start school at 7:30 a.m. Also know, that I currently work in a district that has a 3-tier bell system, which began several years ago because of transportation and the driver shortage. I have worked in each one of the three, and last year, I worked within all three, at one point. It is certainly an adjustment for staff, students, and families. Other area school districts are on 3-tier bell schedule, as well, such as Williamsville. There is precedent for this and BPS is not an anomaly.
The presentation to the board last week provided some necessary context for this change. Yes, as this school year has progressed, there has been dramatic improvement in the reliability and timeliness of yellow bus transportation to and from school. However, it is still not enough. Its important to know that several schools were actually having students arrive later or leave earlier every school day this year, as a way to remedy the driver shortage. This resulted in missed instructional time for these students- up to 20-30 minutes per day- an undeniable inequity. It was also shared, per the Council of Great City Schools, that the average ride on a school bus for urban students nationwide, is 15-20 minutes, while the average bus ride for Buffalo students, this year, has been over 40 minutes. If properly implemented, the 3-tier bell system is expected to reduce bus ride time by at least half. For example, this year, students were picked up by a yellow bus at the earliest of 6:20 a.m. With the 3-tier bus system, the earliest pick-up will actually be later at about 6:40 a.m., even for those students who will have a start time of 7:30 a.m.
Below are some of my responses to common questions I’ve seen or heard:
1. “What about the impact on families with children in multiple schools and different start and end times?”
It’s an inconvenience for sure, but one that exists now with staggered start and end times, which is currently the case for my own children in two different BPS schools. Staggered start and times impact families in suburban districts as well. Often, elementary, middle, and high schools, each have different start and end times.
2. “How come you haven’t tried anything else and held First Student accountable?”
The District has implemented many other remedies, some of which were shared in the presentation last week. Over the years, First Student has partnered with us to raise wages and provide a sign on bonus to attract new drivers. We offer the highest pay compared to other surrounding school districts. After some backlash midyear, First Student provided dozens of out of town drivers, beginning in December. We are currently at 464 drivers, more than what we started with in September, but still far below the 631 we had in 2019. I’ve been the first to call out First Student and their responsibility to fulfill their contract. I did so before I was a board member in 2018. I spent a day visiting First Student terminals and their operations. We did bid out for a new contract when I began my time on the board. The hard truth, there wasn’t another provider that could do better. I also am not convinced that doing yellow bus transportation “in-house” will produce a better outcome. It is a massive undertaking with the responsibility of transporting 36,051 students daily to BPS schools, charters, non-publics, agencies, and UPK. I know that small suburban districts are struggling to find drivers and providing reliable transportation on a daily basis, with their transportation service provided in-house. In fact, just last week, a suburban Superintendent made this statement in their weekly update to staff and parents: "As you know, we face a shortage of drivers which continues to be an ongoing challenge that sometimes results in bus delays."
Lastly, over the past two years, the district worked with charter schools to alter their start and end times. The board was told last week that some charters start as early as 7:00 a.m.
3. “How come some high schools have the early start time of 7:30?”
This is my biggest reservation with the plan. Yes, the research and experts say that older students should start school later. The district has explained that under the initial 3-tier plan floated in the fall, with a 9:30 start time, that a 7:30 start time could have been avoided for most high schools. Now that the three start times are more condensed, high schools have to be included. Two major factors are yellow bus transportation for students with disabilities to high schools and required transportation for charters and privates.
Additionally, I’ve asked about some of the 5-12 schools having different start and end times for middle and high school students. I’ve been told that this would create a logistical dilemma with scheduling and staffing.
4. “How come the district and board have not included stakeholders in this decision?”
The district surveyed parents last summer and there was general support for a 3-tiered bell system then. The district has an ad-hoc transportation committee that has been meeting since last summer and is made up of parents, staff, and community. The district and board have discussed transportation regularly throughout the school year and heard from the public on this matter at monthly board business meetings. We have also received several emails from parents and staff on this matter. In fact, I don’t think there has been another matter this school year that the board and district have discussed and spent time on more than transportation. From input that was received over the past several weeks, the 3-tiered bell system plan was modified from when it was initially floated last fall. For example, the latest start time of 9:30 am was eliminated. Since the proposal was introduced last week, even more changes have been made from additional input received. Below is the latest presentation to the board at our business meeting on May 17, 2023. You will see that concern was raised about scheduling for athletics. As a result, changes were made, eliminating the latest start time, so that the difference between high school start and end times will be no more than 45 minutes.
There also seems to be some misunderstanding from what was agreed to in the new teacher’s contract on start and end times. Please see wording below for clarification:
Starting and/or ending time changes will be no more than one-half (1/2) hour with the exception of schools that presently start at 9:00am, which may change up to forty-five minutes under the condition that they move to an earlier start time. Bell times are projected to be 7:30, 8:15, and 9:00am; The starting time for the teachers shall begin no earlier than 7:25 a.m. and end no later than 4:20 p.m.; Teachers' hours of service shall not exceed 7 hours and 15 minutes as stated above; Prior to the implementation of the change, the district agrees to hold a community meeting at each impacted school to receive feedback from the school community.
I know that this change will be an inconvenience and adjustment to some staff, parents, and students. The most significant reason that the 3-tiered bell system is being recommended, is equity. This school year, only elementary students whose families could provide transportation, were able to participate in afterschool programming. Students who did not have their own transportation, which is a majority in a district with an economically disadvantaged rate of over 80%, could not participate. This is an incredible inequity and injustice, along with the lost instructional time from the implementation of late arrival or early dismissal at some schools, this year. Modified sports and the amount of students who could participate were also impacted by limitations in bus transportation. We have also been told that this plan will maximizing aides on buses and result in fewer students on buses.
There is plenty of research showing the importance of afterschool programming- academic, social-emotional, and nutritional- which positively influence school and life outcomes. There’s also research showing the short and long-term benefits of participation in sports. The district is indicating in their 3-tiered proposal that transportation for elementary students will be resumed for afterschool programming and will be enhanced for athletics. This means a great deal to me as an at-large board member representing all students and families in our city.
If you have additional questions or further concerns, please email me. Questions and concerns will not be addressed on social media.
Vice President of Student Achievement
Buffalo Board of Education