Hillsborough County School Bell Times: Does Applying a Standard Make Sense?

There has been discussion around the necessity of a standard 55-75 minute elapsed time (the time between school bells). The implication here is that when the elapsed times are too short, buses are late.  While a short elapsed time may contribute to late buses, it is not the only problem.  Increasing elapsed times may not be the right or only solution.

In this post the following will be discussed:

  • Does a single standard elapsed time make sense for all schools in the district?
  • Are school districts across the state of Florida using this standard?
  • What other districts also wrap high school hours around elementary school?
  • Other recommendations to increase time between school bells.

Applying a Standard Elapsed Time vs. Local Needs

Why is 55-75 minutes between the start of school bells ideal?  A few Hillsborough School Board Members indicated, at the April 25th Special Called Board Meeting, that the district has received many recommendations over the years to increase elapsed times.  The Council of the Great City Schools (CGCS) was specifically called out as one of the organizations that has recommended increasing elapsed times.  However, it is not clear if their recommendation properly considered the impact on the community’s specific needs.

When we are told elapsed time should be a standard 55-75 minutes because other school districts are doing it, or because it is a “standard”, or because it is recommended by the CGCS then it might be a good idea to ask:

What are some reasons that applying a standard might be suboptimal?

Here are some possible reasons:

  • Each district (and arguably areas within each district) has its own bottlenecks, routes, and traffic patterns.
  • Each district sets its own duration of instructional time. Some require less than HCPS; allowing for more flexibility in bell schedules and elapsed times.
  • Each district has its own community needs, resources, educational requirements, and priorities.

These all produce uniquely different needs for bell schedules and transportation solutions.

Does there need to be a one size fits all for every area in the district?  If every district in the country was exactly the same, and had exactly the same needs, then why don’t we have the same school schedules, elapsed times, education curriculum, etc. in every state and every district in the country?

Optimizing bell schedules while taking into consideration educational priorities, time in school, start and release times, student well-being, traffic patterns, etc. is a complicated task.  However, there are operations techniques that can incorporate and prioritize factors like those. Deciding what boundaries (e.g. no student should be picked up prior to 6:15 am) the district is willing to accept for each of those items is important.  Those boundaries are the constraints.  So, how were elapsed times determined and what were the constraints?

Are School Districts Across the State of Florida Using this Standard?

We are told by Superintendent Eakins in the YouTube “Bell Schedules Explained”1 that:

“Currently across the state of Florida the standard is at least 55 to 75 minutes between bell times for successful pick-up and drop-off of students” (:36)

The table Elapsed Start Time by County that Hillsborough County Public Schools (HCPS) provided includes several districts and shows elapsed times in the 55-75 minute range.  Does size of the district matter when benchmarking elapsed times? It seems logical that very large districts will face different challenges than smaller districts.  If that is the case, why are all of the counties in the HCPS table less than half the size of Hillsborough by enrollment?

So some districts are doing it. But who is and who is not? And does it really matter with respect to local needs?

Some districts ranked larger than counties shown in the HCPS table are producing better performance and do have shorter elapsed times than 55-75 minutes.  Do any of them have successful student pick-ups and drop-offs?  Was any benchmarking performed?  Were any best practices identified?

For perspective, Elapsed Times – A Ranking of Counties by Performance and Enrollment includes elapsed times for the top 15 districts by enrollment and their performance rank.  Elapsed times highlighted in orange on this table are from districts that have a better performance ranking than Hillsborough and are also in the top 15 by enrollment.

Remember Hillsborough County School District is very big (by enrollment); it is one of the biggest in the country.  But so are Miami-Dade and Broward School Districts, and Palm Beach County is not far behind Hillsborough.  They all have elapsed times that fall under 55-75 minutes.

If a national standard is what districts across the state of Florida do and should use, why are large and small higher performing districts not all on that standard?

What Other Districts Wrap High School Hours Around Elementary School?

Superintendent Eakins states in the YouTube video “Bell Schedules Explained” 1 that:

“In the afternoon, our county does something very unique, we flip the order of dismissal, starting with elementary first and high school second.” (1:09)

Some other “very unique” counties in the table Elapsed Times – A Ranking of Counties by Performance and Enrollment that flip the order of dismissal include Palm Beach, Miami-Dade, Broward, and Volusia.

It is suggested that in order to achieve the standard time (is that a Florida standard?) we have to remove this “flip”; or the way high school hours wrap-around elementary.  Pushing elapsed times all the way out to 55-75 minutes does begin to necessitate a removal of that wrap-around method.  It was not explained how longer than 27 minute elapsed times would not work with the current wrap-around design.  Removing that wrap-around is what appears to force the high school day to be shortened and the elementary school day to be pushed out and lengthened.  This topic and another potential solution will be discussed more in the next post.

Other Recommendations to Increase Elapsed Times

In case you have not read all the posts, Gibson Consulting Group, Inc. (Gibson) recommended increasing time between school bells to an hour so that Hillsborough County Public Schools (HCPS) could decrease the number of bus drivers needed to save an estimated $2.4M.  The intention with increasing elapsed times is to provide enough time between bells so that more drivers can get to three schools each (high, elem., and middle) in their route; some drivers currently serve only one or two school types (2, p. 145).  In addition to the recommendation to change bell times to reduce costs, the report also mentions two reasons for late buses.

It was also noted in the April 25th Special Called Board Meeting that the Council of the Great City Schools (CGCS) has also recommended increasing elapsed times, however, the why of that recommendation was not explained.  Even if it were explained, it seems very unlikely that a standard could be customized to address the needs of different localities, because, well…a standard and a customized solution are opposites.

It is questionable whether late buses are properly being addressed by increasing elapsed times to a standard district-wide because that solution does not:

  1. address the issues Gibson noted for late buses (2, pp. 140-141,149),
  2. resolve the concern regarding driver assignments brought up by Susan Valdes at last Tuesday’s Special Called Board Meeting at 2:24:15 (time marker), or
  3. consider customizing bell schedules to the unique characteristics and needs of each locality.

There are minutes, like 40 or 45, that exist between the 27 minute elapsed time and the 55-75 minute standard.  Have all those minutes between 27 and 55 been excluded as feasible solutions in all areas of the district?  Other options will be explored more in the next post.

1Eakins, “Bell Schedules Explained”, YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uR7lWpiNQGY

2Gibson Consulting Group, Inc., Phase II: Operational Efficiency Audit – Comprehensive Report for Hillsborough County Public Schools, https://www.sdhc.k12.fl.us/docs/00/00/17/86/HCPSGibsonPhaseIIFinal_Report.pdf

This entry was posted in HCPS Bell Schedules, Hillsborough Schools, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.