Beye parents fear safety with single start time

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Four parents of Beye Elementary School students implored the District 97 Board of Education Wednesday night to reconsider moving all elementary schools to a unified start time, citing safety concerns from intense traffic and teenage drivers in the neighborhood of the high school.

"The crossing situation at Erie [Street and Ridgeland Avenue] already is a dangerous one," said Karen Berman, of the 300 block of North Ridgeland Avenue.

"I have learned not to leave the house before 8 a.m." because the streets are completely backed up, said Chris McCaffrey-Boss, of the 200 block of North Elmwood Avenue. Elmwood is one block west of Ridgeland.

Sarah Williams, chair of the Beye PTO safety committee, said people in the neighborhood already have a "heightened sense of vigilance" regarding teenage drivers. She said loitering teens and those who travel in packs can be intimidating to younger kids, and that high school students "flavor the neighborhood" with foul language, cigarette smoking and graphic displays of affection after school.

Beye, at 230 Cuyler Ave., is three blocks east of Oak Park and River Forest High School, which also has an 8 a.m. start time. Dist. 97 plans to move Beye, Longfellow and Mann elementary schools back to an 8 a.m. start time from 8:30 a.m. All eight elementary schools would end at 3 p.m.

School days at both district middle schools go from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Board members and Supt. John Fagan said they would look into finding ways to improve safety in the Beye neighborhood, but that the district needed to institute the change after the board agreed to it in its latest contract with certified teachers inked this spring.

Unified start and ending times would mean an end to some teachers waiting for training activities to begin on Wednesday afternoons. Board President Carolyn Newberry Schwartz described it thus in a letter to parents: "Different start and end times cause the early-start school faculty to have to wait for the later-start school faculty to finish their day and school-based meetings before the cross-district grade level, departmental, or district meetings could begin. On Wednesdays this means that early-start faculty had to wait until 3:45 or 4 p.m. to attend district-wide meetings, despite the fact that they finished teaching at 2 p.m. and completed their collaborative planning time in their buildings by 3 p.m."

The district first announced it would consider unifying the start times of its elementary schools in April 2003. Then and in 2004, the board was steeped in cost-cutting measures, looking for every dollar of savings it could find outside the classroom.

Although the district identified a possible savings of $14,500 by reducing the number of buses needed with a single start time, it ultimately passed on the proposal. Members of the board and community raised safety concerns then, but the district cited the lack of sufficient crossing guards for nixing the idea.

Village Manager Carl Swenson "assures me that we will have crossing guards," Fagan said at Wednesday's meeting.

About 1,300 Dist. 97 students?#34;26 percent?#34;are bused within the district for a variety of reasons, including the distance between school and home and whether a student would have to cross a busy intersection.

Board member Dan Burke, himself a Beye parent, suggested looking to providing busing for Beye students living near the high school and to "invite a process" of safety committees from OPRF and Beye to meet with Oak Park police.
?#34;Drew Carter

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