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District eyes later high school start times

After getting mixed results in a districtwide survey, the Independent School District 196 School Board will consider a recommendation to change school bus schedules -- and in turn alter school start times -- at its next meeting.

The school district released results of an online survey that covered school start times, adding elementary world language and calendar preferences.

Based on the survey results, superintendent John Currie recommended the board consider a change to the school bus schedules. The board is expected to vote on the measure at its Nov. 24 meeting, which begins at 6 p.m. at Dakota Ridge School in Apple Valley.

The change is based on research done by Johns Hopkins and Brown Universities, and supported by the Minnesota Medical Association, which showed high school students benefit from extra sleep due to biological changes occurring during puberty. District 196 rejected the change when it was originally proposed in 1996.

"You could tell children to go to bed earlier, but generally, they don't fall asleep any earlier," Currie said. "Generally, they fall asleep about 11 p.m. The time that is variable is the time we go wake them up in the morning. That is what is affected by moving high school times back."

If approved, high schools in the district, including Rosemount, would start at 8:20 a.m. and end at 3:10 p.m. instead of the current 7:30 start and 2:20 finish. Middle school start times would move from 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

"A lot of people have asked, if its not good for high school students to wake up earlier, why is it O.K. for middle school students?" Currie said. "It goes down again to the physiological factors behind this and the fact it is affecting students who have reached puberty. The average onset of puberty for a female is 13 years old, and 15 for males. The bottom line is that the percentage of students that this affects in the middle school is much less than at the high school.

"Couple that with the fact that our high schools have 8,600 students and the middle schools is 6,000 students, the math and the percentages would indicate that the affect on our students and their peak learning opportunities pays more benefit if we move the high schools (start times)."

Of the survey's 6,500 responses, 51 percent said they would be in favor of moving the school start times. Thirty-two percent were against the change, while 17 percent were not sure.

However, Currie's recommendation was met with a bit of skepticism from board chairperson Mike Roseen.

"I, quite frankly, don't understand why we are doing it," Roseen said. "You made the comment here that (the students) get to choose. But we're the adults here, we're supposed to be the ones that make some of these decisions. not them. When its time to go to bed, go to bed. I think we are truly, truly, truly kidding ourselves if we think these kids aren't going to be in the schools at 7:30 in the morning."

Student responses seem to support Roseen's concerns, with 58 percent of responses against later start times.

Some of the main concerns for the board members revolved around changing the schedule for middle school students and the effect on co-curricular activities.

"I have a little bit of angst and concern about middle school starting at 7:30," board vice-chairperson Jackie Magnuson said. "I think, having taught high school-aged students and middle school-aged students, I agree. Knowing what my kids were like, all of a sudden they turned into vampires when they got to be in high school."

Magnuson said she has heard other school districts around the metro area are waiting to see what District 196 does before making their decisions. Edina was the first school to go to later start times in 1996.

With enrollment in the district so large, the bus schedules would need to be altered to accommodate the changes. Elementary schools would also be bused on separate schedules.

If the measure is approved, schools will be left to sort through the logistical issues, such as practice locations and travel times for co-curricular activities.

"I feel good that we are listening to the research and making moves based on that," Rosemount High School principal John Wollersheim said. "My only concern would be the logistical issues and if we could make all the details work out. Other schools have done it, and I am confident we would be able to as well."

"For some (students) it might be a little difficult," Rosemount Middle School principal Mary Thompson said. "For the majority, I think it will be fine. We have tons of students waiting for school to start in the morning before the bell rings."

While the research supports the biological advantages in learning, studies haven't shown a direct correlation yet.

"There is no definitive proof that test scores go up when you make this change," Currie said. "There is some in regards to fewer tardies and better attendance."

District gets clean audit

As part of the district's annual financial report, MMKR Certified Public Accounts reported on its audit of the district's financial statements.

The company gave the district a "Clean Opinion" -- it's highest rating -- on the basic financial statements.

The district also received a Clean Opinion on the Schedule of Financial Awards, and there were no internal control or compliance issues.

The auditors did find one legal compliance issue -- a prior year finding on contract language -- which was corrected by the current year-end.

The general fund was found to be in sound financial condition with the district's fund balance increased by $7.4 million, and the unreserved operating account fund balance equals 14.1 percent of annual expenditures.