ELKHART — A few dozen people turned out for Elkhart Community Schools' first public meeting on possible changes to next year's transportation plans.
Because of a significant shortfall due to property tax caps of possibly up to $2.2 million in the district's transportation fund, school administrators have created a few options for how to offset the cuts to the budget. Wednesday afternoon's meeting was the first of three meetings to gather public input on the plans.
There are three options for how to re-schedule the start and end times of Elkhart's schools in an effort to reduce the number of buses and routes the school system needs.
In addition, administrators have developed a plan to redraw most Elkhart elementary schools' district boundaries. The middle school and high school boundaries will not change. Neither will Beardsley, Monger and Pinewood elementaries' district lines. Roosevelt Primary, which is currently a kindergarten through second-grade building, and Hawthorne, which is currently a third-grade through sixth-grade, will both become kindergarten through sixth-grade schools. Roosevelt's district will also be entirely a walk zone, Superintendent Rob Haworth, said at Wednesday's meeting. That means no buses will pick up students attending that school.
Haworth also unveiled the different start and end time options for Elkhart's schools. The new, staggered starting times would allow fewer buses to be used. Drivers would work longer each school day running multiple routes, but the school system would still save money overall, Haworth said.
In one option, high schools and middle schools would start at 7:30 a.m. and end at 2:45 p.m., while elementaries would start at 8:30 a.m. and end at 3:45 p.m.
That schedule would have the least impact on savings, likely dropping the number of buses Elkhart runs from 76 to 69.
A second option would have the high schools and Cleveland Elementary in school from 7:30 a.m. to 2:45 p.m.; all elementaries except Cleveland and Bristol in school from 8:15 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.; and the middle schools and Bristol Elementary in school from 9 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. This option would allow Elkhart to work with only 60 buses.
Haworth said that the elementary schools starting later or earlier than most elementaries would not have students riding buses with high school or middle school students. Cleveland and Bristol would start at different times to balance the number of buses running at each start time.
The third option would have the same start and end times as the second option, except that the middle schools and Cleveland would have the earliest start and end times, while the high schools and Bristol would have the latest start and end times. That plan would likely decrease the number of buses Elkhart runs to 65.
In all options, elementaries will have more instructional time than they currently do, while middle and high schools will have less instructional time at seven hours and 15 minutes.
At the end of the meeting, Haworth answered several questions and asked those attending to leave other questions and comments on note cards at the meeting.
Haworth and other administrators will present the details of the plan at two other upcoming meetings. The next meetings are at 6 p.m., Monday, April 22, in the cafeteria at Pierre Moran Middle School, 200 W. Lusher Ave., and at 6 p.m., Wednesday, April 24, in the large group room at West Side Middle School, 101 S. Nappanee St.
Details of the different school day schedule options and detailed maps of the new elementary school district boundaries will be online next week, Haworth said. Information will also go home with students to parents next week.
Doug Hasler, Elkhart Schools' executive director of support services, said at an interview Tuesday that the current system is what “people have become familiar with and certainly change will cause some discomfort and some confusion for some people,” but we think the changes will be better for schools and families in the long run.