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 firstname.lastname@example.org.