TAMPA — Hillsborough County high schools will start an hour later next year, beginning the day at 8:30 a.m. and ending at 3:25 p.m., the School Board decided Tuesday in a 6-0 vote.
Elementary schools will run from 7:40 a.m. to 1:55 p.m., and middle schools from 9:25 a.m. to 4:20 p.m.
There are exceptions: For example, elementary schools that have been deemed by the state to require more reading time will be open from 7:30 a.m. to 2:25 p.m. At last count, Hillsborough had 36 so-called "extra reading time" schools.
Details, school by school, are on the school district's website.
School superintendent Jeff Eakins has long stressed the need to end a compressed schedule that had an estimated 12,000 children arriving late to school each day.
"This cannot continue in our district," Eakins said in a carefully scripted presentation that included a video with interviews of students, bus drivers, parents and an elementary principal.
He also cited research that links sleep deprivation among teens to obesity and other problems.
As he did previously, Eakins promised to make affordable child care available to elementary and middle school families who need it.
What's more, he added, the new schedule will get elementary students to school in time for breakfast.
And, even with slightly shorter school days, Hillsborough will offer more hours of instruction than is required by the state.
"I am pleasantly surprised," said School Board chairwoman Cindy Stuart. "This is long overdue."
The other board members also praised Eakins and his staff for seeking public input and arriving at a plan that appeared most popular, even while realizing that it would be impossible to please everyone.
To help elementary school families adjust to the earlier hours, the district has put on hold a plan to eliminate so-called courtesy busing for thousands of children who live within two miles of their schools.
Such cutbacks have already happened for middle and high school students, and Eakins said the district is working with county officials to improve pedestrian safety on some of the routes.
The smiles that followed the unanimous vote soon faded, however, as more than a dozen employees stepped forward to speak about their pay and work conditions.
Money was the single biggest issue, both for the teachers and a group of bus drivers.
Teachers are frustrated because, for the third year in a row, contract talks have dragged on for months.
"Is this what you want to be your legacy?" Riverview High School chemistry teacher Valerie Chuchman, a union officer, asked Eakins.
About a third of the teachers are due for $4,000 yearly raises under a pay plan approved in 2013. The most recent offer from the district did not give teachers a year's credit for pay purposes, which essentially puts that increase on hold.
For the drivers, the issues were slightly different, some having to do with a reduction in opportunities to supplement yearly earnings that are as low as $18,211.
Since he took over the transportation department in 2014, general manager Jim Beekman has reduced the use of overtime to rein in costs. But some of the drivers said they rely on overtime pay and field trip assignments to make ends meet.
"I cannot pay my bills," said driver Elizabeth Munoz, who earns $19,725, according to district records.
With the board meeting continuing, board member Susan Valdes and Joseph Robinson, second vice president of the Tampa NAACP, met with more than a dozen of the drivers in the lobby. Valdes encouraged them to continue to tell their stories, even if they had to do so in Spanish.
Beekman, when asked what he thought about Valdes' actions, declined to comment. But he acknowledged that, around the nation, bus drivers are not paid enough, given their responsibility and importance.
Contact Marlene Sokol at (813) 226-3356 or [email protected] Follow @marlenesokol.
School schedules in Hillsborough County
Elementary: 8 a.m.-2:15 p.m.
Middle: 9 a.m.-4:15 p.m.
High: 7:30 a.m.-3 p.m.
Newly approved times for 2018-19
Elementary: 7:40 a.m.-1:55 p.m.
Middle: 9:25 a.m.-4:20 p.m.
High: 8:30 a.m.-3:25 p.m.
Source: Hillsborough County Public Schools