By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
A decade after a bitter battle over Seattle Public Schools start times, changes are back on the table.
This was the major – though not the only – issue discussed when three school-board members met online with West Seattle school-community members Saturday afternoon. The meeting was organized and facilitated by Manuela Slye, a West Seattleite who is co-vice president of the Seattle Council (citywide) PTSA.
The problem is, again, school buses. A decade ago, the district sought to go to a three-tier start-time plan so it could save some money on transportation costs; there were changes in 2015, too. This time, the district says, the issue is a “nationwide driver shortage.” If it ran on a three-tier schedule instead of two tiers, more routes could be handled by fewer drivers. So the proposal – which just went public late this past week, just in time for the board to get its first look at Thursday’s Operations Committee meeting – is for some schools to start as early as 7:30 am and some to start as late as 9:30 am, while others would start at 8:30 am. Here’s what’s proposed for schools in our area:
Tier 1, 7:30 am start (currently all 7:55 except Concord, 8:55)
Arbor Heights Elementary
Concord International Elementary
Fairmount Park Elementary
Genesee Hill Elementary
Highland Park Elementary
West Seattle Elementary
Tier 2, 8:30 am start
Chief Sealth International High School (currently 8:55)
Lafayette Elementary (currently 7:55)
Madison Middle School (currently 8:55)
Roxhill Elementary (currently 7:55)
Sanislo Elementary (currently 7:55)
West Seattle High School (currently 8:45)
Tier 3, 9:30 am start
Alki Elementary (currently 7:55)
Denny International Middle School (currently 7:55)
Louisa Boren STEM K-8 (currently 8:55)
Pathfinder K-8 (currently 8:55)
The full districtwide list is here. This is all on a fast track, with a final vote scheduled May 18th, Saturday meeting attendees heard from school-board members Leslie Harris (who represents our area), Lisa Rivera Smith, and Vivian Song Maritz.
Harris described the bell-times issue as “on fire, to say the least,” adding that she is “beyond disappointed” in district staff “only dropping official information on Thursday.” The Operations Committee meeting “was difficult” – lots of information, lots of “preconceived notions about what we’re going to do” – “it’s about money, the fact we don’t have enough drivers, competing with Amazon and UPS and Metro and” others for drivers. But a decision must be made soon on proceeding with the district’s bus provider First Student, and going back to 3 tiers or staying with 2 is at the heart of that. She also lamented that no one in the district transportation deoartment – whose leader recently departed – remembers how hard people fought to get secondary schools to start later because teenagers need more sleep.
There apparently also is a parallel philosophical controversy over whether decisions like start times/buses should be a school board matter at all, Rivera Smith noted. Overall, she said, that meeting got “really crazy” and ran 2 hours over. She felt it would be “irresponsible … to just punt this.” So committee members moved it to the full board for “consideration” – which, she stressed, didn’t mean the committee approved the proposal. And, she said, there’s a chance it could change before it’s officially introduced at the May 4th board meeting, especially given that it’s only now going to families for feedback.
Song Maritz observed, “Who makes the decision is not so important to me .. what is important is data-oriented decisionmaking,” and looking for every possible solution to the bus-driver shortage.
An attendee wondered what will happen to out-of-school programs for a third-tier student. Answer: Nobody knows, since this information is so new. Harris added that district staff said Thursday that if your school choice no longer would work for you because of the schedule change, they would set up a way to enable you to make a change. Re: athletics, “there’s going to have to be a fair amount of negotiation” for secondary students and Seattle Parks, and that’s happening, but they have to address how that possibly conflicts with adult league rentals. Yet another question: Is there room for later child-care programs for third-tier schools? Reply: “Many layers … to be worked on.”
Question from attendee: Did SPS do any surveying before proposing changing bell times? Rivera Smith said yes, there was a building-leader survey. “I want to cry when I think about a child standing ohn a streetcorner at 6:15 am waiting for a bus” which could happen with the earliest start time. She’s not against three tiers in concept but she’s concerned about student health.
The district will meet with Metro to see how it could help but “the lack of data and lack of detail could not be more frustrating,” Harris said. She also said this shouldn’t have emerged at the eleventh hour, because there’s been a proposed line item in the budget since September regarding “going to 3 tiers to save $5 million” but it’s taken this long to discuss it.
Speaking of budgeting, as the meeting moved into other issues, building level budgets and staffing cuts is another issue on the list. “The budget is non-transparent and non-accountable,” said Harris. The budget is distributed to schools via Weighted Staffing Standards. She explained the process. Song Maritz agreed that process is not meeting needs. Another attendee mentioned the “new governance model” of the board and, who will hold the district accountable if not the board?
Other issues were on a list of concerns circulated before the meeting. Also among them: Availability of Narcan at schools, with overdoses rising. (corrected) Community advocate Shawna Murphy stressed the need to ensure supply and training, saying most nurses have a “two-pack” on campus, but that’s not enough – one person might need both doses. Schools need more Narcan, need more people trained beyond just nurses, need to ensure that more know it’s available …. only nurses and security guards required to know how to use it. The need isn’t only for students – it might be needed for a parent or staffer. Supplies are expiring in May so they have to get more – “it’s not expensive.” Harris said that the King County Medical Examiner wants to talk with the district about harm reduction.
Another topic, special education – inclusion vs. segregation – how is the district moving toward more inclusionary practices? Harris says she and colleagues believe it’s a high-priority issue in collective bargaining. But overall, she believes “services for special-needs students’ is “in better shape than it’s been in a long time.”
There was also a brief discussion ow how students of color are being disproportionately affected by disciplinary actions/policies. Harris noted that this isn’t being adequately tracked by the district, and that it should be done by the directors of schools – to whom principals report.
With so much to discuss, Slye asked Harris to commit to a regular meeting like this one, and she did. She said she’s hoping libraries will reopen for in-person community meetings like the ones she used to have, but in the meantime, an online meeting is now set for 3 pm June 18th.
HOW TO COMMENT ON SCHEDULE ISSUE: The district has set up a “Let’s Talk” form for comments and questions – find it here. Harris also suggested emailing email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, and district officials Fred Podesta and Ashley Davies.