BRIDGEWATER, NJ - The Bridgewater-Raritan board of education is seeking members for a new advisory committee that will study the school start times issue more closely in hopes of determining a solution to the matter.
School board president Jackie Barlow said the committee, which will number no more than 20 individuals in all, will include such stakeholders as community members, students and school board members.
The topic of pushing back school start times in the district, particularly for middle and high school students to accompany their changing biology, has been bandied about for over a year now. It has taken up several board meetings and been the subject of least two public forums, while stirring public debate both for and against the issue for many months.
Superintendent Russell Lazovick delivered a presentation of the timeline at the board’s Jan. 21 meeting, including several models for the potential effect of time changes on district transportation..
The board also passed a pair of resolutions last month, one to state that the medical research regarding school start times was compelling, while the other permitted the board to create the advisory committee.
The committee will operate by three guidelines – the middle and high schools will not begin their days before 8 a.m.; no school will start its day later than 9:15 a.m.; and related annual costs will be kept below $600,000 in all.
“We will build the most representative group possible,” said Barlow. “It’s important work, and we will continue to communicate by every avenue possible.”
School board member Lynne Hurley asked if the meeting nights could be determined before the candidates were chosen. Barlow replied that business administrator Peter Starrs will chair the committee, and that, although no firm dates have yet been set, the committee will likely follow along the lines of the strategic planning committee.
Barlow also said she is seeking a cross-representation of people in the district community, including individuals with different grade levels of children and activities their children are involved in. She added that she will ultimately choose the committee members, with input from others including Starrs, Lazovick and her fellow board members.
Laura Kress, president of the Bridgewater-Raritan Education Association, thanked the board for forming the committee, and said she believes it will settle some of the divisiveness that has been caused by the start times issue.
“I think it will lead to a lot of unity,” said Kress. “It will go a long way.”
Resident J.P Levin questioned the notion of the committee having up to 20 members, and said it sounds like there would be “a lot of chefs in the room.”
Barlow replied that it will be “challenging,” but said she believes it is workable.
Levin also asked that the committee include someone from the business community or the township in economic development. Barlow said the committee guidelines are sensitive to fiscal responsibility, and asked Levin to send her an e-mail regarding his business ideas.
Parent Ramla Tayyabkhan asked if the board could take care of the start times issue, including transportation, without raising taxes. She also said the new advisory committee has to take the different viewpoints into account.
“There needs to be fair representation of both sides,” she said.
Barlow said the committee application will ask candidates to write why they feel they should be on the committee, and that the goal is not to get people on one side of the issue or the other, but to have a mix of people and perspectives. Tayyabkhan responded that a solution to the issue has to be found, and the committee has to be able to serve the whole community.
“You have to know where a person is coming from,” Tayyabkhan said.
Parent Jessica Levitt, who has spearheaded public efforts to have start times pushed back due to scientific research, told the board it is imperative that the committee process “not be rushed.”
She also urged the board to again make the start times issue a priority, in hopes of implementing changes for the 2021 school year.
Resident Lynn Goldberg thanked the board for creating the committee.
The board will accept nominations until 2 p.m. Feb. 18, via a link at the school district’s website at brrsd.org, which can be accessed through the main page. Those individuals who are selected will need to commit to attending three to five meetings on evenings yet to be determined in February and March, and possibly in April.