School district turnabout for transportation plan that could have meant major bell-time changes

Just in from Seattle Public Schools – the transportation-plan change that could have (among other things) meant dramatic changes to bell times – for example, high school starting before 7:30 am – is off the table, after sparking an uproar when it suddenly emerged on the last board-meeting agenda (for May 2nd). The district had said it would have something to say today, and here it is, with the declaration that “the proposed new option is responsive to the feedback and will impact the students, schools and families the least.” Read on for the full announcement:

Proposed Modifications to Seattle Public Schools Transportation Service Standards:
New proposal calls for return to current 2011-12 transportation plan and minimal impact to current bell times

Each year the School Board approves transportation standards—the times at which the “yellow” school buses drop students at school and pick them up after school. Transportation standards are adjusted for many reasons, including when routes change or when new schools are opened.

The current (2011-12) year’s transportation standards changes were expected to save the district approximately $4 million; however due to enrollment growth, changes in programs and routing challenges, approximately $2 million is being realized from those changes.

Given the district’s continuing budget shortfalls, it was hoped that the transportation standards adopted for 2012-13 would generate additional savings to balance the budget. However, given our growth in enrollment, the additional projected savings are minimal as more students needed to be accommodated on the buses.

This spring we worked to develop a balanced budget for the 2012-13 school year, with a goal of keeping budget cuts away from the classroom. To that end, the School Board requested an analysis of options that could generate more savings from transportation. We re-structured the Transportation Office and asked staff to both continue researching the adopted standards and also to research new cost-saving options for Board review. That research resulted in proposed modified standards for 2012-13, which were introduced to the School Board on May 2. The timeline for this research was very short, and community engagement is occurring during the two weeks between introduction and the Board taking action. We have received numerous comments about this plan, and have used the feedback in our continued analysis.

Since introduction of the proposed new standards, staff has been continuing to research the various options with the twin goals of realizing cost savings and being responsive to community feedback. This additional research will result in a new proposal to the School Board on May 16. The new proposal will return to the current 2011-12 transportation plan (and therefore minimal impact to current bell times) and a return to the 2010 ride times of up to 45 minutes. This new option is expected to save the district between $250,000-$500,000. While other options might have saved more money, the proposed new option is responsive to the feedback and will impact the students, schools and families the least. Transportation staff are continuing to refine the details of the new proposal, and more information will be provided to the Board and public prior to May 16.

In order to have a more thorough analysis of options for the 2013-14 and beyond transportation standards, the district has identified a task force comprised of state and local technical transportation experts to begin making recommendations for consideration. This task force will begin in May and have recommendations for the Superintendent to review in September, prior to the Open Enrollment period. We look forward to their recommendations and future discussions on this important topic and want to thank the school communities and parents that provided input into our budgeting process.

P.S. While we reported on the transportation-plan controversy last week, and other news organizations eventually picked it up, credit goes to the Seattle Schools Community Forum site – an all-volunteer effort – for first calling readers’ attention to it.

9 Replies to "School district turnabout for transportation plan that could have meant major bell-time changes"

  • greenelf May 11, 2012 (11:15 am)

    Thanks goodness.

    I think they need to take a hard look at route. I finally got the details of our kids’ route, and it is super inefficient. Maybe they should take to KC Metro… yes, I know their routing isn’t fabulous in West Seattle (a victim of it’s inadequacies myself), but their routing abilities soar above SPS.

  • Bonnie May 11, 2012 (11:27 am)

    So will all the schools keep the same starting time that they have this year?

    • WSB May 11, 2012 (11:38 am)

      Bonnie – don’t know that yet, but I was already watching the district website for their promised plan/statement today – it just happened to come in the form of a news release directly sent to us media types, but for example, last week the “need parental input” call only appeared on the district home page WITHOUT an alert to media – anyway, when something appears (it might be attached to the agenda for next Wednesday’s school board meeting, which usually appears on the district site sometime the preceding Friday, which is today), we’ll update. – TR

  • Band geek's mom May 11, 2012 (11:32 am)

    Once again, surgery required to extract shoe from mouth. As always, relieved there was a doctor in the house.

  • Anne May 11, 2012 (11:51 am)

    Did it really not occur to the school board that this idea would prompt the kind of reaction it got? I’m glad they have dropped it-but as usual-the whole thing has left a bad taste in our mouths..and wondering about their thought process(or lack therof)not good when they are about to ask the voters for more money

  • Charlie Mas May 11, 2012 (1:15 pm)

    So… the District is going to drop the transportation plan they adopted in February (for next year) in favor of just continuing this year’s transportation plan?

  • liss May 11, 2012 (3:28 pm)

    Glad it’s staying as is–thanks to all the parents for speaking up. We must never forget the power of our voices in speaking what we know is best for our children.

    Pathfinder mom

  • JenS May 11, 2012 (4:27 pm)

    We are in our school’s Walk Zone, so this doesn’t affect us directly, but it does seem to me that keeping the current plan while also increasing the drive times to 45 minutes will actually have a big impact (unless the current drive times are indeed 45 minutes, having wildly missed the 25 minute target?).

    I also love this part:

    “The timeline for this research was very short, and community engagement is occurring during the two weeks between introduction and the Board taking action.”

    Community engagement is occurring only because of media exposure on the story, not because the district reached out to solicit engagement!!!

    Anyway, I hope the bright light continues to be shone upon what happens at these Board meetings. Thanks WSB!!

  • Charlie Mas May 14, 2012 (12:01 pm)

    All of this leaves me, once again, with the sense that there just isn’t any real order to how the school district works. This idea can pop up out of nowhere and suddenly get so close to approval by the Board and then, just as suddenly and just as mysteriously, evaporate.

    Is that how things are supposed to work at Seattle Public Schools?

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