APS debt destroys late-start Wednesdays

Feature Photo By: Hannah Metzger – Students walk to their buses in front of Rangeview after school. The high cost of buses running double routes on late-start Wednesdays is the main reason for the termination of late-starts beginning next school year. 

By: Hannah Metzger, Review Staff

According to the National Sleep Foundation, only 15% of teenagers get the recommended amount of sleep (8-10 hours) on school nights. This being the case, it’s no wonder why countless students at Rangeview High School and all throughout APS have expressed their appreciation of late-start Wednesdays.

Unfortunately for these vast majority of students, late-start Wednesdays will not be returning to APS starting next school year.

On Tuesday, January 17th, the Aurora Public Schools Board of Education voted to terminate late-starts starting at the beginning of the 2017-18 school year. This decision came as a major shock and disappointment for many students at Rangeview.

Junior Manuel Cerna described the news as “devastating” being that the change will occur during his senior year of high school.

“Wednesdays are my favorite day of the school week because I can wake up later. I can sleep in,” Cerna explained. “On Wednesdays, in the morning, I sometimes go out to breakfast with my friends and I just have time to relax in the middle of the week… I think it’s gonna be really hard.”

Cerna was not alone in his dismay at the recent Board of Education decision. Daniel McCormick, a Rangeview freshman, also expressed his sadness over the termination of late-start Wednesdays.

“I look forward to [the] late-start all week, and now I don’t get a break from our regular schedule, and it sucks,” McCormick explained.

While it appears that the general student body is most upset about the sleep they will be losing, this decision is just the beginning of a far deeper issue within Aurora Public Schools.

The Aurora Public Schools district released a video explaining how the district’s debt got to where it is today. The video can be viewed here: http://aurorak12.org/about-aps/budget-redesign/#1479149069098-4f7ad3df-d7d5 (Hannah Metzger).

According to Rangeview Principal Ron Fay, cutting late-start Wednesdays will save the district $1.5 million in the transportation budget. Being that APS is currently $31 million in debt, this cut isn’t going to be the last.

According to numbers shared with RHS staff, it’s been estimated that Rangeview High School could be losing $600,000-$1 million in funding next school year.

Rangeview social studies teacher Mrs. Walsh’s main worry isn’t the loss of late-starts, but where the upcoming budget cuts for the remaining debt are going to come from.

“The decision was solely financial. The district is $31 million in the hole, and late-start Wednesdays run double routes on those mornings because other schools, like elementary schools, aren’t on late-start… So it has nothing to do with what the teachers want or what’s good for kids, it’s simply because we’re financially unstable,” explained Walsh. “My biggest concern is the rest of the money. Now [after cutting late-start Wednesdays] we’re $29 million in the hole. Where are those cuts coming from?”

Cerna hopes that these losses will not hurt the subjects he cares about most.

“I’m worried,” said Cerna. “I don’t want them to take funds out of the classes that kids actually enjoy, like the elective classes. Like, theater, orchestra, journalism, [and] yearbook, I don’t want there to be less money in those classes.”

However, there is more at stake than funding and classes with the upcoming cuts. Due to the termination of late-start Wednesdays alone, APS staff will be losing valuable professional development time.

According to Fay, starting next year, late-start Wednesdays will be replaced with “early release Fridays” that will occur roughly once a month. Though, this alone couldn’t logically make up for the time being taken away.

One and half hours per week in a 36 week school year equals to 54 hours of professional development time per year, so that’s what teachers are getting with the current late-start Wednesday schedule; while half of an eight hour school day (four hours) once a month during the ten month long school year only equals to 40 hours (which is most likely an overestimation since the half-days will occur less than monthly).

“Professional development with my colleagues was an opportunity to collaborate, find out what was going on with other teachers, and improve instruction,” explained Rangeview social studies teacher Mrs. Taylor. “[The change] will affect the time that I have to work with colleagues, which will have an indirect impact on my planning and instruction. Late-start Wednesdays will be replaced with early release days, but I don’t think it will be the equivalent time we have now.”

A copy of Rangeview’s current schedule hangs in room 164. Starting in the 2017-18 school year, Wednesdays will follow the regular weekly start times (Hannah Metzger).

Fay is confident that Rangeview will be able to make up for lost time. He said he doesn’t believe RHS staff will be losing any professional development time next year.

“It’ll take a little bit of creativity to try to maximize the amount of time,” said Fay. “Our goal is not to lose any of that time and if at all possible try to find ways throughout the day during teacher planning time to enhance some of that professional planning time.”

Late-start Wednesdays were initially instated into Aurora Public Schools in the mid-2000’s. This time was used in order to allow teachers the development time necessary for them to follow the new guidelines set after the PLC (Professional Learning Community) reached Colorado.

Since then, the use of and control over late-starts has varied almost annually. Fay explained that who is in charge of the use of time has bounced from the district, to the schools, to individual teachers.

“Next year will be my sixth year as a principal. This late-start Wednesday – the change that will be in place – will be the 5th time it’s been changed in six years,” said Fay. “So it’s really hard to get traction around [a plan]… It’s disappointing that we’re gonna change but we’re already talking about what that will look like next year and how we’ll adapt.”

The removal of late-starts will come with an increase in weekly class time. This has been looked at as a silver lining within the district’s cuts by many staff members.

“In high school when you have sports, extracurricular activities, different reasons that we miss classes…teachers still value day-in-day-out instruction time,” explained Walsh. “If we can get some instruction time back, that’s gonna be better for teachers, and I think it’s gonna be better for students.”

While Taylor stated that she “wishes late-starts weren’t going away,” she agrees with Walsh that increased instruction time will be beneficial.

“One of the positive aspects of this is that it will give me more contact time with students,” Taylor said.

While there appear to be both positive and negative aspects of this new district development, many students wish that they were at least made a part of the decision process for once.

“Yes [the district should have made students part of this decision],” said Cerna, “but, at the same time, I don’t think they ever involve us in their decisions, so I think they’re just used to not involving us.”

While the Aurora Public Schools district struggles with budgeting and begins to make some difficult cuts, Taylor revealed that Cherry Creek schools are gaining more of what Rangeview has just lost.

“Cherry Creek schools will be transitioning to later start times [every day] at the high school level next year,” claimed Taylor.

Citing decades of research showing later start times are better for teens, Cherry Creek high schools will move their start time back to 8:30 a.m. next year.

Whether for the better or the worse, the decision has been made. Late-start Wednesdays are officially terminated for APS and will not be returning any time in the foreseeable future. Although many students feel personally victimized by the first of these budget cuts, Walsh wants to assure the RHS student body that this decision had nothing to do with them.

“Understand that [the Board of Education] is not doing this to you,” Walsh explained. “This is simply cost saving, and it’s either do that or have 45 kids in a classroom, which still might be a possibility.”

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