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Our View: Bus study offers path to opportunities

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Could city buses be used to transport older students to and from school in Rochester? A transit study aims to find out.
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Bus transit in Rochester could be on the verge of turning an important corner.

After countless acknowledgements that the current system doesn't meet the needs of many Rochester residents, a study of the potential for students to use city buses to get to school could drive change.

The city and Rochester Public Schools are splitting the cost of the $42,447 study, but they are also splitting potential benefits. A similar effort produced financial savings for the city of Des Moines, Iowa, and its school district.

While putting middle and high school students on city buses rather contracting for added school bus routes could eliminate duplicated expenses paid by taxpayers, potential benefits go beyond cost savings.

By expanding city bus ridership, the city will be in a better position to expand the system beyond its current spoke-and-hub model, creating more convenient routes to cover the entire city.

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Additionally, it will provide more students a resource to connect to new afterschool activities throughout the city.

It simply opens opportunities.

Rochester City Council member Mark Hickey focused on one opportunity to oppose the city funding.

Citing the objective to provide the school district with more flexible options for high school start times, the council member said later start times would reduce time for after-school activities.

"I don't want to participate in anything that would enable (the district) to make a terrible decision," he told fellow council members.

The view is short-sighted.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention research clearly states that early start times hinder the learning habits of middle- and high-school students. Later starts could cut into some extra-curricular activities, but they will also boost effectiveness of what should be the top priority for our students — learning.

The CDC research is supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which recommends middle and high schools start at 8:30 a.m. or later, so students have the opportunity to get the recommended 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep on school night.

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Rochester's high schools start at 7:40 a.m. and middle school start times range from 7:40 to 8 a.m., meaning students aren't biologically prepared to learn when the bell rings.

During discussions of flipping start times with elementary schools, which start at 9:10 and 9:15 a.m., school board members have been rightfully reluctant to send youngsters to a street corner bus stop before 8 a.m.

To best serve its students, the district needs to start middle-school and high-school classes later. Without city help, that likely will mean adding to the district's expense, which means added tax funding or program reductions since the district doesn't have the capacity to transport students at all levels at one time and keep the budget within set limits.

Hickey's argument against funding the study because he doesn't want to pave the way for the school board to make a decision on what is best for students is inappropriate. In addition to ignoring the potential cost savings for already stretched budgets, he was seeking to build a roadblock on something that's out of the council's purview.

Thankfully, the rest of the council bypassed the obstacle and steered toward what could be a better transit plan.

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