Portland School Board members considering how to add 20 minutes to the school day say they want to explore a new option: making elementary schools start earlier and allowing high schools to start later.

The administration had suggested the reverse to accommodate a new schedule that begins in the fall.

“I really like the inversion of high school and elementary school” start times, Board President Sarah Thompson said at a workshop – at which there was no public comment – held after the board meeting Tuesday night. “And I think if we surveyed students, the high schoolers would say yes, too.”

High school now begins at 8 a.m. and ends at 2:10 p.m., while elementary schools begin at 8:55 a.m. and end at 3:05 p.m.

Under the district’s proposal, the high school day would run from 7:45 a.m. to 2:15 p.m.

Thompson asked the administration to report back to the board on flipping high school and elementary school start times. Several other board members said they supported that option, too.

The district’s now-retired transportation director, who was asked by Superintendent Emmanuel Caulk to evaluate five options for changing the school day, said flipping the high school and elementary school start times could work.

“To my way of thinking , it’s the right thing to do, to flip them,” said Kevin Mallory. There are some concerns, such as possible conflicts with after-school sports, or for families in which an older sibling cares for younger siblings after school.

Thompson suggested the district see if the Portland Recreation Department, which already provides before- and after-school care, could help with any child care gap, and that sports programs could arrange for morning practices or do early release for athletes if they needed to travel.

FEWER DAYS BUT MORE HOURS

Under the new schedule, the extra 20 minutes will create a 6½-hour school day for students starting this fall. There will be fewer days in the school year – 178, down from 180 – but students will end up attending 46 more hours of class.

Of the five options drawn up by the district for the board, only the one with the early start time for high schoolers could be done within the current budget. The others would cost between $1 million and $1.5 million, officials said, because they would require more buses to get all the students to school.

Another possible solution discussed Tuesday would be to use city buses to transport high school students. The school district is currently in discussions with Metro officials, according to Craig Worth, the deputy chief operations officer.

That wasn’t presented as an option this fall because, so far, there isn’t any agreement, he said.

But several school board members said they strongly supported a deal with Metro, which would free up the school district’s 20-bus fleet for the elementary and middle schoolers and break the transportation logjam in the morning, in addition to boosting ridership for the city bus system.

Experts say additional class time gives students the chance for more help, allows for a reinforced science and math curriculum, and provides the opportunity for more “electives” such as art and music.

PREDICTOR OF SUCCESS

A report from the National Center on Time & Learning, which advocates for more instruction time, cites a study by Harvard economist Roland Fryer which found that one of the best predictors of academic success was adding at least 300 hours to the standard school calendar.

Maine requires that students attend a minimum of 175 instructional days a year. Local school districts set the length of their school day, but under state law, the average instructional day must be at least five hours long, and no individual day can be less than three hours.