CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Interim Superintendent Hugh Hattabaugh said today he won't recommend major changes in Charlotte-Mecklenburg school hours, though he said it's up to the school board to decide whether to budget for extra busing to end unpopular schedules.
Hattabaugh said he will recommend new hours for 10 schools, which he wouldn't name, as part of an adjustment to bus plans that would save about $600,000 next year. Two of those schools now have the 9:15 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. schedules that drew complaints at Tuesday's school board meetings and would move to slightly earlier times.
The late schedule was introduced this year to allow buses to make an extra run after serving schools with earlier hours. Hattabaugh said moving all the late schedules up by even 15 minutes would require more buses and add $3.86 million to the transportation budget -- money that would either have to come from county commissioners or be cut from another part of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools budget.
Hattabaugh and the school board have just begun planning for the 2012-13 budget. Hattabaugh says he wants to ask Mecklenburg County commissioners for more money, but plans to use the increase for employee raises and programs that will benefit schools.
Hattabaugh said he hears complaints about late "bell schedules," but also about early ones. High schools open at 7:15 a.m. and dismiss at 2:15 p.m., which some families say forces teens to get up too early to focus on academics. Hattabaugh says he won't change those hours because the schedule is entwined with after-school activities and athletics.
He also said he won't back down on the longer elementary-school day introduced this year -- seven hours, up from 6 hours and 15 minutes in 2010-11.
"The extra 45 minutes is going to be more essential than ever before as we go to common core standards," he said, referring to a move toward a more rigorous national academic plan.
CMS now has 16 schools that combine elementary grades with middle schools, which also have a seven-hour schedule. Some of those are magnets that drew crowds of applicants, even when families had the option of shorter days at neighborhood schools.
On Tuesday, parents, faculty and students from several middle schools packed the board meeting to protest that staying until 4:15 p.m. leaves kids tired, unproductive and ill-behaved, and squeezes out time for homework, after-school activities and families.
At some schools, such as Southwest and Community House, the late dismissal puts buses in the thick of evening traffic, said Suzan Stroud, financial secretary at Southwest Middle.
"If you're having two or three hours of homework, now you're getting to bed late," Stroud said.
Hattabaugh said if a majority of the school board agrees that the late schedules are a problem, his staff would have to find ways to pay for more busing.
Stroud said families who want the change are prepared to lobby county commissioners: "I do believe that they can find dollars tucked away somewhere."