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School board delays decision on later start at Northampton High School but supporters remain hopeful

— City school leaders have once again delayed a decision on changing the time of the school bell at Northampton High School, though proponents say they are encouraged by proposals on the table.

By a vote of 7-2 Thursday, the School Committee agreed to decide next month on two of four later-start proposals they have been considering for the 2013-14 school year.

The first would move the high school start time from 7:30 a.m. to 8:15 a.m. by setting the first bell at JFK Middle School 15 minutes earlier, at 7:40 a.m.

The second — an idea proposed last month by school Committee member Downey Meyer — would keep JFK’s start time at 7:55 a.m. and move the high school bell to 8:30 a.m. Under that plan, JFK would end the day at 2:15 p.m. and NHS at 3 p.m.

At Thursday’s board meeting, some members expressed frustration over the pace of decision-making on the start-time issue, which arose more than five years ago in response to research showing teens who get more sleep are healthier and do better in school.

School Committee Vice Chair Stephanie Pick reminded her colleagues that members voted unanimously last January to direct Superintendent Brian Salzer to come up with a proposal for a high school start of 8 a.m. or later beginning next year.

“I am concerned about how wishy-washy this committee is getting,” Pick said. “I really think it’s time to bring this to a close.”

School Committee member Lisa Minnick said she viewed the January vote as a call for proposals rather than a blanket endorsement on changing the high school start time.

“Not doing it at all was one of the options,” said Minnick, who voted against Pick’s motion to consider only two start-time proposals next month.

School committee member Edward Zuchowski also voted no on that motion. Voting in favor were Pick, Meyer, Alden Bourne, Blue DuVal, Howard Moore, Andrew Shelffo and Mayor David J. Narkewicz. Committee member Michael Flynn left the meeting before the vote was taken.

Neither of the two proposals the board will take up next month would cost money because they preserve the existing three-tiered busing system, according to Salzer.

Both proposals would add 20 minutes to the length of the school day at the city’s four elementary schools. The first proposal would also require the elementary schools to start five minutes later, at 8:55 a.m.

DuVal voiced concern that many elementary school families are unaware of the call to change school schedules in the lower grades. “We haven’t had forums about that,” she said. “It’s just being slid into these proposals about the high school start time.”

Pick stressed that extending the elementary school day “is something we’ve been talking about for years,” though she added it would require negotiations with the Northampton Association of School Employees.

Salzer agreed to hold another public forum, which has been set for Oct. 30 at 7 p.m. at the high school, to discuss the two proposals remaining on the table. He said he would also report on how administrators at NHS and the central office feel about those proposals.

In an interview following Thursday’s meeting, later start proponent Steve Herrell said the committee’s long deliberations are “an indication of how important this issue is.”

“Either proposal has a very good chance of passing,” he added. “I think it’s great that the committee passed a motion that binds them to making a definitive decision.”

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