SCHOOL BUS CUTS? Families from two West Seattle schools sound the alarm about district proposal

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

Seattle Public Schools – like most public entities – is facing a big budget shortfall.

Potentially, $48 million.

Cuts and changes won’t be finalized until summer, but one proposed cut would have a big effect on 15 schools, including two in West Seattle: A proposal to cut yellow-bus service for most “option schools,” including Pathfinder K-8 on Pigeon Point and Louisa Boren STEM K-8 in Delridge. Parents at both schools are organizing opposition.

First, here’s the slide shown at a School Board budget work session last week (see the full agenda packet here):

(The “tiers” are a reference to a district equity measure, a calculation explained here.)

The Pathfinder community has launched an online petition demanding that this proposal be subject to public comment, which so far it has not been. Their points of concern include that this is surfacing just as the enrollment decision period is arriving, so families might choose these schools without being aware that bus service might not be available. Traffic and environmental impacts – adding more single-family car trips – are a big concern too; Pathfinder – with Seattle’s largest forest on its doorstep – has long centered part of its curriculum on environmental stewardship.

The STEM community is circulating an online petition too. This one also cites equity concerns:

This transportation cut would effectively devastate our school community and take away any hope at continued diversity for our student body in years to come. If enacted, SPS’s decision effectively turns option schools into “elite” schools, denying access to the very population it seeks to foster and goes against its own priorities. According to SPS’s own racial equity tools, “It is the moral and ethical responsibility and a top priority for Seattle Public Schools to provide Equity Access and Opportunity for every student, and to eliminate racial inequity in our educational and administrative system.”

West Seattle’s school board director Leslie Harris has that concern as well, telling WSB, “I am adamantly opposed to such a suggestion and said so on the record – I believe based on privilege issues/disproportionality for Option schools would be greatly diminished if busing (were) eliminated for students of color and furthest from educational justice.” She also pointed to the issues cited by the schools’ parents, including bad timing – with enrollment decisions being made now – and “trust – when SPS went to neighborhood schools, SPS advised Option schools that we’d have Transportation for geo-zones.” Harris also notes that “Option schools have historically been pilots for new innovative practices. Killing them harms us long term.”

The district already has downsized “yellow bus” service over the years, in particular, offering older students public-transportation passes instead. For “option schools,” the district’s website says, “Transportation service (is) usually limited to the Middle School attendance area in which they are geographically located.”

So how many students would this affect, if the bus service was cut? A letter that the STEM PTA has sent to the school board says almost two-thirds of their students: “Last year, 558 students were enrolled at Louisa Boren STEM K-8 with 350 students utilizing yellow bus transportation.” The letter (see it here in full) adds, “The ability for a student to ride the bus can be the difference between a caregiver having a job or not. If a student can ride the bus, their caregiver may be able to work an additional two hours each day which at Seattle’s minimum wage equates to $33.38 a day. That’s $166.90 a week and $667.60 a month. $667.60 a month can keep the lights on, buy groceries, winter coats for a family, etc.”

Just switching the hundreds of affected students to neighborhood schools isn’t a simple fix, parents say, as does director Harris – many of those schools are already over capacity.

WHAT’S NEXT: From last week’s work-session slide deck, here’s the budget timeline – more “work sessions” ahead:

No formal “public engagement” planned any time soon – at the very least, concerned parents want to see that changed – but you can comment to board members, who ultimately have the final say, via

20 Replies to "SCHOOL BUS CUTS? Families from two West Seattle schools sound the alarm about district proposal"

  • Robin January 27, 2021 (1:18 pm)

    Thanks WSB for always capturing the whole story and doing a great job representing communities. We hope the rest of the community rallies behind us at STEM & Pathfinder, not only because it’s better for kids and families for all the reasons listed above, but because it will also impact them. My extra car (and the hundreds?! of others) on the road gets you slower to all the places you go. And we all know how traffic is right now while school is not in session and a lot of people are still working from home. Side note, I’d point out that, “community engagement” is one of the missions of SPS (I’d throw the exact quote here, but the website looks like it’s down – domain name is not secure – yikes!) so doing this without asking, “Hey, how would this impact your community?” is a joke. You ask us, we could solicit what we would back to get rid of. Our PTA and community overwhelmingly is voicing, “NO!” on this plan. 

  • Judy P. January 27, 2021 (1:59 pm)

    I thought, with the Trump-ees gone, we would see many fewer wrong-headed proposals!  In addition to treating these schools as outside our public-school system, the idea places the onus on parents already carrying a huge part of the teaching load while buildings are closed AND all that use of private vehicles would unnecessarily pump more carbon into the atmosphere when science clearly teaches otherwise.  How could the district possibly think such “money saving” is smart?!

    • Texas Tom January 27, 2021 (2:36 pm)

      If you think the astounding amount of terrible decisions made by local officials are a result of conservative inclinations, you haven’t been paying attention AT ALL.

    • PNW January 28, 2021 (8:15 am)

      I’m stunned that you expected better decisions and solutions just because Trump was voted out. The Republicans that I know would want to provide Equal services to ALL children and then provide Extra to the children that need it. Seattle schools look at equity with a broad brush stroke, making it so that services become Unequal for all. They’re looking at schools as a single entity, and forgetting that they are comprised of individual students. Their own policies are moving towards inequity. Expect civil unrest to persist over the next two decades because this generation of kids will feel it.

  • Kram January 27, 2021 (2:01 pm)

    Seems crazy to me that with a 6.5 billion dollar city budget we still lose bus service to children. I know all the numbers add up but, just, wow.

    • WSB January 27, 2021 (2:04 pm)

      Seattle Public Schools is not part of city government. Separate entity, separate budget.

  • Alex January 27, 2021 (2:22 pm)

    Schools get most of their funding from property taxes.   We haven’t seen any property tax relief  from Covid so would like an explanation from Seattle schools what the issue is.

  • STEM Parent January 27, 2021 (2:36 pm)

    This cut is going to cause an insane amount of stress on the families with kids that go to these schools, including mine. We both work outside of West Seattle full time and there is no way we could possibly both drop off and pick up our child from school everyday. We have no idea what we will do if this cut stands. Many many families at STEM and Pathfinder use the bus to transport their kids to before and aftercare. And for the families that can’t afford those luxuries, they really rely on the bus to take their kids to school, as they might not have a car and/or work longer or different hours. I can’t imagine how or why this decision was made, but truly hope it will be reversed.

  • dsa January 27, 2021 (3:00 pm)

    Use 2020 bus money.

    • Ws mom January 28, 2021 (5:51 am)

      Seattle schools contracts to First Student for Bus Service usually in a 3 year contract.  I believe that SPS is still obligated to pay First Student. Also some buses were used for food service or special education. In general though there isnt money that just didn’t get used despite kids not going to school.

    • dsa January 29, 2021 (12:23 am)

      Clearly not all buses were used.  Many drivers stayed home, buses sat idle and First Student pocketed  cash anyway?

  • Frog January 27, 2021 (3:20 pm)

    The school board and management seem to consider option schools to be a relic of the past, and an obstacle to implementing their one-size-fits-all education philosophy.  Last thing they want to do is pay for yellow bus service to programs they don’t even support.  Ending the bus service would be a double win — save money, and stick another knife in those programs.  It’s not just a clumsy attempt to cut the budget.  They would probably covert both Boren and Pathfinder to vanilla attendance-area general ed schools if they could; and then no need for bus service.

  • Lhorna Murray January 27, 2021 (4:01 pm)

    Well there are a couple answers to at least one of my questions in re; bus service for younger kids —although my own son was given an Orca by SPS & used it to get to school beginning in middle school. I’m reposting my questions/concerns that I had when I went to sign this petition here as well. Mostly because I feel there may be others who have one or more of the same questions.;

    I took a look at this petition but some things gave me pause.

    I’m pretty confused by the following items that are listed as reasons on this petition, so I’ve listed the areas here as well as my questions —since there very well may be answers that could offer me some additional clarity:

    1.) “What are the consequences for local roadways that are already overtaxed due to the closure of the West Seattle Bridge?”

    -Thousands of non-option school SPS students ride public transportation daily to and from school. Given that every SPS child receives a free Orca card, and Metro is routed to go all over the city already —the question posed here seems unable to recognize how the Yellow Bus service this petition advocates for is essentially doubling the harm to the roadway. The additional us service adds additional traffic, so that seems to be a negative consequence, no? What am I missing here?

    Additionally, how can we justify additional transportation when we are also paying for Orca cards? Who decides which children are granted the costs of extra transportation, and which children are not? Are we only looking at certain schools, but not others? If so, why?

    If we’re using an equity lens, wouldn’t this transportation/funding be better applied to the least funded schools where students are behind?

    2.) “The projected savings of cutting this essential service ranges from $550,000 to $740,000 (~1.5%), which is not significant enough to make up for the harm and disruption our students and families will endure.”

    * I’m confused by this statement, as the premise here seems to indicate that this is a pittance amount?
    * I am also unable to fathom how there could be additional harm and disruption happening here —that is not also being experienced by every single SPS student in the district? I need more clarity on what this harm is outside of having to make other (free) transportation arrangements. I don’t have enough details for buy in here.

    3.) “This transportation cut would effectively devastate our school community and take away any hope at continued diversity for our student body in years to come.”

    -Is the school’s student body currently a good model for equity?
    If so, what are the numbers? How many children from historically marginalized communities are enrolled? What is the ratio? What does diversity currently look like at this school? Has it been tracked? If so, is it growing? What exactly are we losing/gaining in terms of diversity by altering transportation?

    • WSB January 27, 2021 (4:23 pm)

      I’ll leave it to school-community members to answer most of your questions if any are so inclined. One point, however – Metro does not go anywhere NEAR “all over the city.” In West Seattle alone, two routes have been totally cut (technically suspended but there are no indications if or when they’ll return) and others dramatically slashed (Admiral, for example). And the route coverage doesn’t even address the point of whether distanced capacity (for Metro) will still be the case when fall arrives. – TR

    • Ws mom January 28, 2021 (6:03 am)

      In the transportation issue…There are kids from south park that attend both pathfinder and stem. There are know realistic public routes that kids could use to get to school.Both stem and pathfinder are k-8. Even if middle school were given orca cards there is still k5. There is no middle schools in south park.  All kids are bussed somewhere mostly denny, the remainder stem and pathfinder. While stem is on delridge and there are metro busses that stop there often the limitation is the origin point because kids are coming fro. all over west seattle and there are limitationsAlso because they are k-8. Many middle schoolers are riding with younger siblings. So again not much sense moving to metro because the bus would still be running same route for younger one. 

  • Mom of 2 in SPS January 27, 2021 (4:17 pm)

    SPS hates kids. Everything they do is just a race to the bottom in the name of equity. The transportation budget comes from the state and is based on what you spent in previous years. Slashing bus service is cutting off your nose to spite your face. 

    • Mom of 3 January 27, 2021 (4:31 pm)

      You nailed it! School choice is the last thing they want. Equity is the word of the year.

  • Robin January 27, 2021 (5:44 pm)

    Re: above questions, I replied to you on the STEM facebook page @stemk8

  • CSouth January 27, 2021 (7:18 pm)

    I’m so confused by this. When STEM was created, one of the (many) reasons the school board discussed for it’s existence was that it was actually a money-saver, that the increased costs in bus services were a pittance compared with how much it would cost for additional portables at neighborhood schools.  Doesn’t that same reasoning still hold? Aren’t portables still extremely expensive?

  • MML January 27, 2021 (7:57 pm)

    Another issue is that these K8s take some of the population burdens off of the overcrowded middle schools. Some students just do better in a smaller environment. 

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