Monitoring the Seattle School Board meeting that’s under way now (live on cable channel 26) – the proposed start times have changed yet again before the formal presentation and vote later in the meeting (as part of a transportation plan) – the official presentation is here; it now calls for elementary schools to run 9:30 am-3:40 pm, middle schools, high schools, and most K-8s (including Pathfinder) to run 8:15 am-2:45 pm. We’ll add the vote here when it happens, as well as any other major developments from tonight’s meeting. 7:14 PM: Denny and Sealth students spoke during the public-comment period to express opposition to cuts in the Proyecto Saber program. Another West Seattle note – a presentation under way now about the future of special education mentions “more middle-school autism services in West Seattle.” Also, West Seattle board rep Steve Sundquist is asking why the district did not respond to a community request to offer the Spectrum gifted-education program in a West Seattle elementary school (Arbor Heights has been suggested – right now West Seattle’s only official elementary Spectrum program is at Lafayette in the north end); the staff response was that the closure process caused some bumps in the feedback process, and that explanations of the denial will be forthcoming “now that everything is final.”
8:16 PM: COO Don Kennedy is in the middle of the start-time/transportation presentation, and clarified that those times are not necessarily hard-and-fast school bell times but the basic transportation-related times so there may be some variations at individual schools, but not too far. (“Clarified” may be a misnomer, still working to be clear on this one, probably will require post-meeting followups assuming this plan is approved tonight.) Superintendent Dr. Maria Goodloe-Johnson said that it’s not usual for something to be introduced and voted on during the same meeting, but said time was lost because of the closure process and if the vote on this is put off till early April, parents won’t have full information till after the enrollment period closes.
8:41 PM: One data point – Kennedy says this plan would take 49 school buses off the road. School Board president Michael DeBell is impressed.
9:25 PM: The proposal was approved.
9:50 PM: District lawyers just noted that a hearing is set April 1st for a lawsuit against the sale of the Fauntleroy schoolhouse; this came during a discussion of other sales and challenges, current and prospective, to them.
11:35 PM: The district has issued a news release with language further attempting to clarify the “start time” issue – read on for the full text:
School Board approves new Transportation Service Plan
New Bus Arrival Times begin fall 2009
Seattle – At its meeting on March 18, the School Board voted to approve changes to transportation service standards for 2009-10. These changes mean that bus arrival and departure times will change this fall. Some changes, especially for most K-8 schools, are significant.
The changes will maximize operational efficiency, provide more consistency and reduce transportation costs by $2.2 million. Other changes will reduce rides times for many students. The changes for fall 2009 are:
• Middle schools, high schools and most K-8 schools (Alternative School #1, Catharine Blaine, Broadview-Thomson, Jane Addams, Madrona, Orca, Pathfinder and South Shore): Yellow buses will arrive at the schools at approximately 8:15 a.m. and depart at approximately 2:45 p.m. Principals will have the flexibility to adjust their specific school arrival and departure times within a narrow window of time in conjunction with the transportation service standards.
• Elementary schools, plus Salmon Bay K-8 and TOPS K-8: Yellow buses will arrive at these schools at approximately 9:30 a.m. and depart at approximately 3:40 p.m. Principals will have the flexibility to adjust their specific school arrival and departure times within a narrow window of time in conjunction with the transportation service standards. Salmon Bay and TOPS are included in this second tier because current bus routes for these two schools are longer than all of the other K-8 schools. Including these two schools in this tier will help ensure that younger students will not need to wait for buses in the dark.
“Creating consistent bus times across the District is important in increasing our operational efficiency and reducing transportation costs,” said Board President Michael DeBell. “These changes will reduce the amount of time students spend on buses, save Seattle Public Schools $2.2 million annually and move us closer to the goals of our strategic plan, Excellence for All. These are decisions that need to be made now, during our Open Enrollment period, so that parents and families can determine the best school and schedule for their children and their family.”
The new bus arrival and departure times allow “tiering” of buses, which means that each bus will drive two routes in the morning (one secondary or K-8 followed by one elementary) and then do the same in the afternoon. With the current inconsistencies in arrival times, most buses can only drive one route in the a.m. and one in the p.m.
In addition, many routes will be streamlined so that ride time will be reduced for many students. Currently, many routes serve two or more schools, which lengthen the total ride time. All K-8’s and many elementary and middle schools will have dedicated routes under the new system.
The benefits of the proposal to students, families and the school system include:
• Reduced ride times for many students.
• Consistency of bus arrival and departure times.
• More consistency of drivers, which is beneficial to providing a positive climate on each bus route (one of the reasons for driver turn-over is that many of our routes do not provide a full day of work – with this change, we will be able to offer more hours per driver).
• Savings of approximately $2.2 million per year in transportation costs. With Seattle Public Schools facing a $25 million budget gap for the 2008-2009 school year, this savings helps minimize budget reductions at the classroom level.
• This plan will mean that Seattle Public Schools will run 49 fewer buses while serving approximately the same number of students. In addition to reducing costs, the district will reduce fuel consumption as well as its carbon footprint.
Seattle Public Schools faces a $25 million funding gap for the 2009-2010 school year. Central office staff reductions, school closure, a hiring freeze, changes to the school funding model and strategies to maximize grant revenue will all contribute to closing that gap. Increasing the operational effectiveness of school bus routes was identified as an important strategy for closing the gap, and will save $2.2 million per year – the equivalent of 25 certificated classroom teachers.
The motion was introduced and approved by School Board members on March 18 to ensure that families have an opportunity to consider the impacts of the decision on their schedules, and to have the opportunity to apply for a different school, if needed, before the end of the Open Enrollment period on March 31. The motion was adjusted from the original proposal of 8:00 a.m. and 9:15 a.m. arrival times to reflect feedback from staff and families, who expressed concerns about students needing to wait for buses in the dark.
Other changes to transportation service standards include establishing Neighborhood Attendance Area bus stops for schools with large geographic draws. Using “safe walk zones” determined by the City of Seattle, neighborhood attendance area bus stops will be established at key centralized locations from which students will be picked up and dropped off daily. These locations can be YMCAs, neighborhood schools, Boys and Girls Clubs, etc. For students not residing within a “safe walk zone,” bus stops will be created to provide transportation for those students.
EARLY THURSDAY NOTE: The district also has distributed some info about the school assignment plan discussion that took place in a board work session before last night’s meeting. Here’s its section on the district website; more practical details are in this SPS Community Blog breakdown of the afternoon discussion.