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Northampton school leaders seeking volunteers for new committee on later high school start time

School Committee members Thursday voted to have Mayor David J. Narkewicz appoint members of the new committee, which will explore how changing the 7:30 a.m. school bell at NHS would affect bus schedules, sports and after-school activities, among other issues.

The group will present “one or more proposals” for a later start time to the School Committee by a target date of April 1, 2013.

Narkewicz said he and Superintendent Brian Salzer will put out an official call for volunteers, with an eye to making appointments early in the new year. Residents interested in serving on the committee will be able to submit letters of interest via the school department’s website.

In voting for the new committee — the second formed since the debate began five years ago about a later high school start time — school leaders did not specify the size or makeup of the ad hoc group. Nor did they set a preferred start time for the high school.

That worried School Committee member Downey Meyer. “I’m not sure what we’re charging them with if we haven’t agreed on a time window,” he said.

Others, including School Committee Vice Chairwoman Stephanie Pick, felt the committee’s mission should remain open-ended.

“They need to look at all the options for a later start time and all the various issues that have arisen — athletics and after-school activities,” Pick said.

The start time discussion at Thursday’s meeting began with School Committee member Edward Zuchowski proposing that all talk of the issue be delayed until July 2013, given other pressing matters facing the board.

“It’s just wise that we take a break from this issue,” he said. “Also, to realize a change in the start time for the high school just might not be possible for 2013.”

Committee member Howard Moore disagreed. “This has to be continuously discussed,” he said. “To bind ourselves to not doing something is to close off an opportunity to solve this.”

Motion failed

Zuchowski’s motion to put off the start time debate failed by a vote of 5-4. Opposed were Narkewicz, Pick, Moore, Alden Bourne and Blue DuVal. Voting in favor were Zuchowski, Meyer, Lisa Minnick and Andrew Shelffo. Michael Flynn was absent.

Residents who spoke during the public comment portion of Thursday’s meeting offered mixed opinions on how school leaders should tackle the high school start time issue.

Jeff Findlay urged the board to make a decision without further delay. “As a taxpayer, I want a school committee, not a later start committee,” he said. “It’s time for a vote.”

On the other hand, Jenifer McKenna supported the idea of forming a new committee as long as it is given “a clear mandate and time frame.”

One start-time topic that didn’t arise at Thursday’s meeting was extending the elementary school day. While that idea had been part of start time proposals before the School Committee, members decided last week to confine those discussions to collective bargaining.

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