SCHOOL START TIMES: Proposed changes dominate discussion at community meeting with Seattle Public Schools board members

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
Gatewood 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,, and district officials Fred Podesta and Ashley Davies.

33 Replies to "SCHOOL START TIMES: Proposed changes dominate discussion at community meeting with Seattle Public Schools board members"

  • Canton April 24, 2022 (11:19 pm)

    Here’s an idea… Maybe the schools should hire their own drivers and buy the yellow busses on the cheap, from failing First Student. Might have to pay full time wages as bus drivers only get paid for morning and afternoon commute. Stop contracting with entities that have no ability to maintain driver services and do it in house. Why should this issue put another cog in parents availability to get their kids to school and disrupt their work situation? 

    • K April 25, 2022 (6:20 am)

      There’s a nationwide driver shortage.  I assure you, hiring drivers “on the cheap” isn’t going to make more willing commercial drivers appear, when even companies with good wages and benefits like UPS and King County Metro have major driver shortages already.  The district contracts with a company that provides the proper Class B training.  Who at Seattle Public Schools do you know of who is qualified to teach new hires how to drive buses?

    • Jeff April 25, 2022 (6:40 am)

      Yeah really.   Any time you hear “driver shortage” you can substitute “a shortage of people who want to work part time yet inflexible hours for low pay and no benefits”. 

    • WS Res April 25, 2022 (11:00 am)

      To answer that question, you  have to ask “why were services like school buses (and bus mechanics, and cafeterias, and janitorial services, etc.) outsourced in the first place?”  And the answer is: there are groups of voters who heartily dislike the idea of government having any funding to run public services, or even offering public services to begin with (other than police, which they always seem to want more of). So they fight against funding public school districts, and the districts find themselves with budget shortfalls, so they “outsource” to unscrupulous companies willing to “do more with less,” or in other words, pay their own layer of management while low-balling their actual service workers and refusing to provide them the kind benefits, wages, and retirement that school employees would get.  Thus public money goes into a small number of private hands, and a “working poor” underclass grows and grows.  Those working poor folks are so poor that some of them qualify for benefits like Medicaid and food aid, costing the taxpayer another layer of administration doing “more with less,” while still getting less than they would if they were just school employees. Others just live hand-to-mouth or become working unhoused folks.  So when you ask “why not just have the school district own and run the buses?” the answer is: because the appearance of a well-funded district with well-paid and benefitted employees was offensive to some voters, and they prefer it to be this way.

      • JZ April 25, 2022 (1:48 pm)

        Exactly!  And… where exactly is the district going to find land around Seattle metro area to lease or purchase to store all of the school busses?  I’ll tell you, there isn’t any.  

  • Manuela Slye April 24, 2022 (11:22 pm)

    Thank you Tracy for your attendance and reporting. Minor clarification: although I am heavily involved with the Narcan advocacy, the comments were made by Mx Murphy, parent leader and South Park resident. 

    • WSB April 24, 2022 (11:30 pm)

      Thanks, fixing.

  • Christina Dahms April 25, 2022 (3:35 am)

    West Seattle High School currently starts at 8:45 not 7:55 as reported here.

    • WSB April 25, 2022 (9:56 am)

      Fixed, thanks.

  • Dark recess April 25, 2022 (5:21 am)

    Come 2023, those schools in tier 1 will be having morning recess in the dark during the winter. The sun won’t rise until 9am. 

  • KL April 25, 2022 (5:59 am)

    Thank you, as always, for your reporting WSB!! Does anyone have email addresses for Fred Podesta and/or Ashley Davies? 

  • Anne April 25, 2022 (8:01 am)

    Assuming all these different start times result in different ending times.? Those schools starting at 9:30 (for some that’s an hour & a half change from current start time.)will be getting out at what time?  How will these times impact after school practices/games?

  • Evan April 25, 2022 (8:31 am)

    7:30 start time is absolute madness. Also, parents could have kids with start/release times two hours apart? Complete lunacy. 

  • Tomas April 25, 2022 (9:37 am)

    Funny how a few years ago this was all billed as “better for the students” so older kids can sleep in.  It was all BS of course, and now you see Sealth High School moving up by 25 minutes to 8:30am while Denny Middle school starts a whopping 1hr 35 minutes later at 9:30am…..I thought  SPS was going to finally consider not using First Student as their bus service anymore since that company clearly can’t get it together.  What a cluster.

  • OutofBox April 25, 2022 (10:38 am)

    I am sure many people have ideas, and I get I am sitting in the cheap seats. But what if the Seattle Public Schools hired drivers as full-time employees? When not driving buses, they could be tutors/lunchtime aids/administrative assistants, or any number of other jobs needed during the school day. The bus drivers could receive benefits and full time wages. Just a thought!

    • Anne April 25, 2022 (12:09 pm)

      Aren’t there already employees doing those -or most of those jobs?

      • Susan K Goplen April 25, 2022 (2:24 pm)

        Yes, there are some full-time employees doing some of these jobs.  It depends on the school. For example, a small school may not have sufficient funds to hire tutors, or a principal may have to make a choice about the needs in a school (e.g. tutors vs. music). I am not an expert on school budgets. However, I do know as an SPS parent that the schools are desperately short on substitutes, including paraeducator substitutes.  It would be nice to have more adults in the buildings.

    • KWest Seattle April 25, 2022 (12:09 pm)

      This seems like a great idea

    • Kevin on Delridge April 25, 2022 (12:53 pm)

      How about we hire them for full-time wages and have them drive the buses only?

      We don’t have to force extra labor onto them. You could say this might be “out of box” thinking.

      • OutofBox April 25, 2022 (2:32 pm)

        It would be nice, but SPS is running a budget shortfall. I don’t think we can justify paying an SPS staffer full-time wages for part-time work when the budgets are in the state they are in. Plus, there is a lot of needs for caring adults in buildings.  Giving a younger student one-on-one attention in reading or math can be transformative. Many adults find tutoring to be immensely rewarding.It may be unrealistic to do something like I proposed, but I am very disappointed that we are returning to a 3-tier system.  As a parent, I know it is really difficult for young kids to start at 9:30 a.m.  And, some kids aren’t morning people, and a 7:30 a.m. start in the dead of winter is really hard, too. The current bell times are just so much better than what is proposed. I was an SPS parent on the old 3-tier schedule, it was such a relief to move to 2 tiers. This feels like a major step back.One good thing: SPS has recognized high schools shouldn’t start at 7:30. The last time SPS was on a 3-tier system, high school students were in the earliest tier. That was really hard for teenagers, who generally need to sleep later in the morning.

  • West Seattle parent April 25, 2022 (10:41 am)

    Please be sure to submit your feedback on SPS website (Let’s Talk Link). May 18 is the last day for community feedback. wasn’t there community engagement on this change? There was a lot of discussion the last time changes were made to bell times. We did not conduct more in-depth community engagement during planning because changing bell times is the only option identified to meet the goal of reliable, safe, and on-time transportation for all transportation eligible students.  

  • k April 25, 2022 (1:20 pm)

    What SPS (and SPS Parents) should consider is something that many other cities do: offer free bus passes to middle- and high-schoolers and have them take public transit to school.  Save the buses for elementary schools, kids with special needs, and those that legitimately live too far from public transit to use it.  Parents can hate the bell times all they want, but if there are no drivers for the buses, they or Metro are going to become the kids’ driver anyway.  This isn’t a First Student issue.  There was a nationwide shortage of commercial drivers before COVID, and the shortage was exacerbated by the pandemic because training of new drivers stopped for an extended amount of time.  

    • mightymoh April 25, 2022 (2:16 pm)

      They already supply bus passes to many/most middle and high school kids. My kids didn’t get them because we live too close to our middle school, but this is already a thing. So of course when KC Metro also has service issues and limits due to staffing challenges, that system doesn’t always work. (Also having a lot of WSHS and Madison students all vying for buses around the same time is not going to be fixed with those tiers.)In the 80s/early 90s, I was bused from QA to Rainier Valley, and the district or the district’s contractor used converted Metro buses. We did not get bus passes, though, for the times we took regular Metro.

      • MercyMoi April 25, 2022 (6:09 pm)

        Yes! I remember this from Seattle’s bussing experiment of the 80s. We had yellow buses and Metro buses used for school runs exclusively.

  • Alki April 25, 2022 (3:21 pm)

    Alki Elementary is the only Tier 3 elementary school listed above for our area. Both Pathfinder K-8 and Louisa Boren STEM K-8 have on-site before school and after school childcare. I am not sure why Alki is the only tier 3 elementary school in West Seattle. There is no before school care offered at Alki Community Center. 

    • Alki Mom April 25, 2022 (3:40 pm)

      The Alki community center used to offer this, and stopped when the pandemic started and school buidlings closed. Hopefully, if Alki moves to Tier 3, they will offer before school care again!

    • Andrea Dwinell April 25, 2022 (11:15 pm)

      Alki currently has one bus and it only ever appears to be half full. Seems something better than moving the school to a tier 3 can be sorted here. Can the district supplement an additional bus contract as first student cannot meet the district needs? Or a shuttle service even for the smaller schools?

      • Jon Wright April 27, 2022 (1:34 pm)

        At our school, I have heard many parents complain about unreliable bus service. As a result, they drive their students. Because of that, when the buses do run, they are not utilized nearly as much as they could be. I think it is a bit of a “build it and they will come” situation–once families are convinced they can count on the bus, they are going to be a heckuva lot more likely to use it.

    • Alki parent April 26, 2022 (9:02 am)

      The community center is having staffing issues of their own. I’m not sure they can handle the influx of the families needing assistance in the mornings. I am also surprised and disappointed that Alki is the only tier three elementary school in our area. Yesterday as the two buses were leaving in the afternoon one was completely empty. The other not quite full. I’m not sure what the buses look like in the mornings. But there is a better solution to this that requires a little more precision to truly serve each school and community, but is SPS (let alone First Student) willing to do that? Probably not. 

      • I don't like it April 27, 2022 (12:27 pm)

        I was thinking the same thing.
        How many actual students using the bus at each school vs. the rest.
        Are they making 500 students change because 40 of them are bus students? We are at AH and the students waiting for the bus is way lower than the parents doing pickup.

        I mean I want to be fair but. . .what is the data driving the decision?

        Anyways my kid already has a hard enough time waking up at 7:30 to get to school at 7:55. And our neighbors kid end time is now going to be 4:20pm but right now there are a lot of after school programs and sports that this bites into.

  • Admiral Mom April 25, 2022 (4:10 pm)

    Also consider how traffic has evolved  (for the worse!) since the last time SPS had a bell time change. It is not as easy as it sounds 

  • Sasquatch April 25, 2022 (5:00 pm)

    This proposal is partially baked. Typical of Seattle Public schools to release this information without doing the legwork/research. This will probably go into effect and then halfway through the year next year they’ll realize they instituted a half baked plan – and they will start all over again

  • Me mama April 27, 2022 (6:53 pm)

    The saddest thing, and should be the biggest story, is that our schools need Narcan. My nephew in Kirkland had two Classmates die from overdoses last year, not at school tho.  

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