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Published: Wednesday, 8/11/2004

Bedford: 2 districts to start school with bus, calendar shifts


TEMPERANCE - Parents in two south county school districts might want to check twice before sending their children out to the bus stop in a few weeks for their first day of school.

If those children go to Bedford, chances are the bus won't be coming to the same place or at the same time that it did last fall. And if those children go to Mason, when the school bus does show up a week later than last year, it's going to be 15 minutes early.

Mason's experimental move this year to a much different calendar - approved earlier this year - is being watched closely by other area districts. Returning the day after Labor Day and tentatively ending classes on the Friday before Memorial Day 2005 is expected to save the cash-strapped district $45,000 this year alone on food service and transportation costs, Superintendent Marlene Mills said.

"I think we all know there are a lot of eyes on us in trying this," Mrs. Mills said.

But the genesis of the decision really came as district officials looking for ways to boost instructional time in core areas like reading, writing, and math needed to find extra time in the day to accommodate the additional instruction.

"The idea came as we were doing scheduling, and we said, 'Wow, if we had a half-hour more every day, we could do this so much better,' " Mrs. Mills said.

By starting classes 15 minutes early and ending them 15 minutes later each day, the district is still able to meet state requirements for instructional hours and open up the opportunities for students to take extra classes, Mrs. Mills said.

As an example of the academic changes coming, Mrs. Mills pointed to two new classes that will be mandatory for all incoming freshmen and sophomores in the high school.

The semester-long, two-period classes dubbed "Freshman Focus" and "Sophomore Communications" will attempt to teach study skills, information reading skills, and begin career planning.

"We're going to teach them how to be better high school students, how to use some of those strategies in their academic classes," Mason's superintendent said.

The changes will also make the new block schedule implemented in the Middle School last year easier to use by providing extra instructional time in the classroom.

"When you look at our test scores across the board, our kids need more instruction in [English language arts]," Mrs. Mills said.

Meanwhile at Bedford, the decision this spring to eliminate transfer transportation for students who wanted to attend an elementary school different from their neighborhood school has resulted in some wholesale changes to the district's bus routes.

"We've redone all the routes," said Ted Magrum, Bedford's assistant superintendent for finance and operations. "We're consolidating some bus stops - probably not a large number. But what we don't want is for parents to assume that they're going to be picked up this year at the same time and the same place."

Bedford is eliminating five of its 42 bus routes, and was to lay off "three or four" bus drivers this week in moves designed to save an estimated $230,000 annually, Mr. Magrum said.

"This gives us flexibility. If we're growing in the elementary, we can add runs without having to add drivers," Mr. Magrum said.

He said the level of transportation service the district had been providing simply became too expensive to maintain in an era when state education funding has been frozen or reduced for three straight years.

"When you've got three houses in a row [on a route], we were stopping at all of them," Mr. Magrum said. "Now we're trying to consolidate where it's closest for the youngest child on the stop."

The district will be posting the specific changes to its bus routes on its Web site www.bedford.k12.mi.us and also will be publishing them in its upcoming News & Views newsletter, Mr. Magrum said.

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