Sunday, March 08, 2009

Start Times Proposal: Make Your Voices Heard NOW

With the Open Enrollment period under way, we can expect to hear the proposal to change start times announced as a final decision very soon. The district website completely soft-pedals this change, saying they are "considering changes" to "school bell times." That sounds like they are beginning to discuss changing the length of school periods or something like that. The reality is that they have almost already decided, with no public input, to change school start times, affecting thousands of students.

If you have strong opinions about the proposal (in favor or against), please share them with the following people ASAP:

1) The Board member for your region and/or the entire School Board: schoolboard@seattleschools.org

2) Tom Bishop (Transportation Manager) tabishop@seattleschools.org

3) Ammon McWashington (Tom's boss, who oversees transportation, athletics, etc); mcwashington@seattleschools.org

4) Don Kennedy Chief Operating Officer drkennedy@seattleschools.org

5) Carla Santorno, Chief Academic Officer cjsantorno@seattleschools.org, particularly with potential impacts on learning and academic achievement


The proposed change is to have all middle schools, high schools and K-8s start at 8:00 am, and all elementary schools at 9:15 am. District FAQ here.

26 comments:

Johnny Calcagno said...

By my account, this proposal would affect about 4500 students, 3000 of them in K-5.

Here’s a
spreadsheet with the numbers.


I attended the Board meeting the other night specifically to
hear the presentation on the bell times change, and I spoke on the matter. Here
are my remarks.
(Full disclosure: I used some unattributed comments from this blog!)

The bell times change presentation didn’t occur until after break. During the break I had a conversation with Michel DeBell in which he told me that the Board was well aware of the concern about the change (they are getting lots of emails), but that they also felt stuck because they have
committed to saving money without impacting classrooms and teaching. That was a recurring  theme for the rest of the evening. He also told me that there was some confusion about whether the Board had any control over the issue. As
the evening wore on, it became increasingly clear to me that they *do* have control because they get to vote on the Transportation Service changes.
 But whether or not they will use that control is up in the air. If  I had to bet, I would say no, that they will let the current plan stand.

Transportation Director Tom Bishop presented a PowerPoint presentation on the bell time changes. The current time-frame is for the proposal to be introduced formally at the 3/18 meeting and finalized on 4/8.

There were lots of comments from the board members, here
goes:


Peter Maier: Says he supports rationalizing the bell times, but is concerned about putting all the high schools on 8:00 time. Cites Nathan Hale wanting the 8:30 start time – that’s why they the first school to do Metro.

Tom Bishop, Don Kennedy: Special needs kids have to take Yellow Bus service and in many cases cabs, which is very expensive. If they
consolidate times, they will save this money.

Peter Maier:  Pushes back on this saving, because the special needs kids still get a full day even with the current start times.



Sherry Carr:  Where is the community engagement? Worried about it playing out at open enrollment. Were K-8 teachers or staff asked about the bell schedule?

MGJ: The level of engagement is “Inform “ because we don’t have a lot of time.



Sherry Carr:  Was staff asked?

MGJ: Did not have an answer on the staff being asked. She then asked CAO Carla Santorno. Carla says that K-8 and Middle School Education
Director Ruth Medsker was at the table when this was discussed and she said it will be “okay.” She said that Ruth had talked to principals (not parents or staff).



Peter Maier – Surmises that the top down decision is due to the need to make the decision immediately.

Don Kennedy: Will create a task force to look at the
transportation bell times etc. Current service standards require specific bell times, which is not happening now, so they are going to adhere to those times.



Harium Martin Morris: Particularly troubled by K-8’s being included at the earlier start time. His family picked their kids’ school
because of the earlier time.

Tom Bishop: Every time we move a bus to the later time it’s 50K; if a school has 4 busses that would be 200k.



Mary Bass:  What does it look like for big cross-city buses?

Ammon McWashington: The service standard is 60 minute max for 90% of kids.



Tom Bishop: – Currently 90% of kids are being transported to
a school outside their cluster (!?)



Michael DeBell – Agrees with thrust of the proposal but is
concerned about safety for K-5 students.

Tom Bishop: Currently reorganizing K-8 routes to reduce their timeframe;  Cites TOPS, whose average bus time at TOPS is 53
minutes. They have made recent adjustments to have several  routes into the 40-50 minute range.



Cheryl Chow:  When is the deadline for the decision?

Tom Bishop: Introduced service standards on 3/18; action on
4/8



Don Kennedy:  Decisions are being made now because of open enrollment. Again, a comprehensive analysis is in the works for 2010-11 and beyond, but they need to save money next year.



Cheryl Chow: Concerned that if we don’t cut the 2.2 million on this, what will we cut.



Sherry Carr: Agrees that if we don’t cut, we will have to find the money somewhere else.



Maria Goodloe-Johnson: She knows it’s bad timing, but we need to do it now for a bunch or reasons, e.g. open enrollment



Cheryl Chow: Starting early (8:00am) might make some parents
happy.



Peter Maier: Wasn’t trying to say just don’t do it; Realizes we have to save money. Still concerned about NHHS; He thinks the K-8 savings are significant and hard to pass up.



Steve Sunquist: As a Board we were conceptually together with the staff on saving 2.2 million on Transportation (precisely because it’s not in the classroom), but now we have details, and it’s more painful in reality.  He thinks coordinated bell times may expose savings beyond the ones already found, but also believes we have not fully engaged the public.



Michael Debell: Board Executive Committee will take up the
question of expediting this discussion (March 11 8-10:30a).

Maureen said...

I keep thinking that I'm missing something with the length of the school day. 8-9:15 => 75 minutes difference, but HS day is 30 mins longer, MS 20 minutes longer than K-5. So end times are only 45 minutes different. Why do they need a 75 minute window in the am, but only 45 in the pm? Will the K-5 kids all be standing around after school for 30 minutes waiting for their buses? Have the K-5 teachers/principals processed this? Will the District budget extra Teacher/IA/Office staff time needed to supervise them (as well as K-5 kids at K-8s)?

Why are 'consistent' start times valuable in and of themselves? Given the current assignment plan, we will have multiple buses passing through the same city streets at the same times every morning. It might make sense if all the kids went on a block went to the same school (under the new assignment plan?) but not now. And what about Ted Howard's concerns at Garfield? What will happen when the Franklin/Cleveland/RBHS/Garfield kids all have to be on Metro at the same time for 8:00 starts? Why make it easier for gang rivals?

Johnny Calcagno said...

One of the parents at our school sent the following to the School Board and District transortation officials:

Good Morning -

My son is a current third grader and my daughter will start kindergarten there in the fall. I am gravely concerned about the proposed 8:00 a.m. start time for next year. While I appreciate that the district is trying to save money on transportation, I feel that this proposal goes against the main goal for the district - "Excellence for All."

Currently, the school day starts at 9:10 which works well for our working family.

7:30 Kids up
8:20 Out the door and off to school
8:45 Kids arrive at school
9:10 School day starts, parents arrive at work
3:20 Kids go to after school activities and after school care
5:30 Kids get picked up from after school care
6:00 Home
6:45 Dinner on the table
7:30 Homework time
8:30 Bed time

This gets the kids 10 - 11 hours of sleep a night and they spend only 2 hours in after school care. It also works for our work schedule. A 9:00 to 5:30 day is reasonable. With an earlier start time, we have to shift the entire schedule by an hour.

6:30 Kids up
7:20 Out the door and off to school
7:45 Kids arrive at school
8:10 School day starts, parents arrive at work
2:20 Kids go to after school activities and after school care
5:30 Kids get picked up from after school care
6:00 Home
6:45 Dinner on the table
7:30 Homework time
8:30 Bed time

Even though the school day ends earlier, our work day doesn't. Our kids will spend an extra hour at after school care, and less time sleeping.
It's already hard to get my 5 year old up - she hasn't gotten up at 6:30 since she was 18 months old. I'm struggling to see how this is good for learning. And, as this proposal affects 4,000 kids, I see this as limiting the learning for those kids. How is this "excellence for all?"

If the district is intent on streamlining the transportation, I would like them to consider shifting school times for everyone. I understand that there needs to be 75 minutes between bus shifts. Why not start school at 8:30 for some and 9:45 for others? That way, all families share the burden of the time change. Thank you for your consideration.

Beth Bakeman said...

Regarding Carla's comment, here's what I wrote to Carla last week after the Board meeting:

"Carla,

Contrary to your assertion last night at the School Board meeting, I do not think that Ruth Medsker has discussed the early start time for K-8s with many of the K-8 principals and, overall, the K-8 prinicpals are not “okay” with the proposed change. The word from several parents on my blog who have been talking with their principals is that, at least at some of the K-8 schools, there has been no discussion with anyone at the district and no requests for their feedback on the proposal. The principals, staff and families are very concerned but don’t know what action they can take.

The change in K-8 start time would put all K-8s at a significant disadvantage in attracting K-5 students who could otherwise attend schools that start at 9:15 am. This is particularly harmful for alternative schools, who rely entirely on families choosing to attend. It would also have a significant negative impact on the new K-8, Jane Addams, which needs to be able to attract a large number of families to be successful in alleviating overcrowding in the northeast.

Based on the presentation and questions last night, it is clear that the only aspect of this proposal that has been thoroughly considered is the apparent short-tem savings. The other potential impacts (educational, health and well-being of children, enrollment) seem to have been ignored completely.

--- Beth"

I got a prompt reply from Carla that she would talk with Ruth Medsker.

Johnny Calcagno said...

I just saw that there is a link to the School Board meeting the
other night, and conveniently the Bell Times
discussion kicks it off.


Naturally, my quick note-taking was approximate. Here is part of the actual exchange about staff/parent engagement (the full bit is at about the 20 minute mark of the streaming video):

MGJ: The question was, were K8 teachers asked about the bell schedule.
Sherry Carr: Did anybody do any sort of kind of a check, pulse, get some input from them around impacts from their perspective, since they are really the ones most broadly impacted with the proposal.
MGJ: Carla do you have any information about that?
Carla Santorno: I was just going to say that at the table Ruth Medsker did come and talk about the issues with K-8 and there were issues. I can’t articulate exactly what she brought, but I know that she has come to Ammon and to Tom and she has talked about what the issues were. At our last senior leadership meeting, I think her words were “I think it’s going to be okay, we’re working to modify and to look at it,” but yes, she brought issues and she was in contact with the K-8 principals. And it’s not an ideal situation for them, but she did talk to them. Principals, not parents, but she did talk to the principals.

Charlie Mas said...

"We're working to modify it"

What does that mean? Modify it how? Mr. Kennedy was clear that if the K-8's were not part of the early start that the bulk of the savings would be lost, so what modifications are they contemplating?

Who gets to modify it? Who has input? Who's input matters? Apparently not the Board's. Certainly not the community's.

Or is she just blowing smoke about the possibility of modifications?

Johnny Calcagno said...

I think the "We're working to modify it comment" was probably made before the last iteration when all the K-8's were added to the 8:00 tier, and probably before Elementary APP was taking off that tier. I'm guessing that is the modification in question, and it has already happened.

On the other hand, I noticed at the 3/4 Board meeting that Don Kennedy, Ammon McWashington and Tom Bishop were highly engaged in a conversation that seemed to be attempting to explore other options, i.e. which if any schools could be moved from one tier to the other. It seemed like Kennedy was pushing them to fully explore alternatives, although they didn't end up coming up with any right on the spot.

The problem with a rushed decision by just a few people is that you are not always going to get the smartest, cheapest, and best solution.

Evan said...

I would have to guess that the way it is now is they way it will be voted on, and the board will approve it:

1) They (the sup't, the board, and the related staff) are all down the road to the presumed $2MM savings - because it is impossible to find dollars of that magnitude in this a system costs are virtually fixed.

2) They've mentally locked in to this 75 minute gap/consistent start times thing - so they won't break up the elementaries with some on early, some on late - which means the K-8s are stuck

3) They're fixated on the budget gap (as probably well they should be) and they don't really care about the impacts on students or families - my guess is the board's questions on Mar 4 were mostly for their watching constituents, because they've known about the details of this for long enough to get any info from staff they might have wanted

4) I too saw Mr Bishop and Mr McWashington in a scrum with Ms Chandler after the meeting, and heard her say "Boys, we've got work to do". As Ms Chandler is in public affairs and not in the transportation department or on the academic side of the house, I'd have to think the "work" they're going to do is not re-configuring the proposal, but spinning it.

As is often the case, getting in on things when the transportation group was beginning to talk about it would have brought "Oh, it's too soon to talk about details - we're just analyzing options", and now that they've fixed on a 'solution' that the public hasn't yet caught wind of, when they do, it will be "We're sorry, we wish we had time for engagement and reconsideration, but - pick your deadline - open enrollment/budget vote/bus contract/whatever - really makes it impossible."

SPSMom said...

I watched the meeting this weekend and am astounded by the lack of information provided by the transporation dept. Mary Bass asked a great question about how uncoupling busses used by two schools will save money. The response, "those schools are just an example, they aren't sharing busses."

OK, then let's talk about the schools that are sharing busses and how uncoupling them saves money. Didn't they couple-up to save money and isn't that why we have staggered start times. So schools can share bus routes. Uncoupling these schools will simply mean that the busses will need to drive the route twice to pickup the same number of kids, or add more busses to get the all kids to school. Either way you double the fuel and drivers hour.

Also, little tibit in there about 19 busses being eliminated...would like to know a bit more about that little bomb. Me thinks that more parents will be driving their students to school or more students will be on Metro, middler schoolers?

And highschools..not one board member asked about Cleveland and RBHS gang issues and problems having them on the bus at the same time. Meir asked about waivers for highschools. Not anwsered.

And how about the thread of, "what if we don't do this, where will we make these cuts?" My question is, "what if this plan doesn't save $2 million, where we will we make cuts."

Oh, and they know we are pissed....they don't care. So emailing won't matter so much.

Simply.Unbelievable.

Charlie Mas said...

Of the $2.2 million that this move will purportedly save, is that before or after the state reimbursement for transportation expenses?

How - exactly - will it save money for two buses to go through a neighborhood picking up students each for a single school instead of one bus going through the neighborhood to pick up students for both schools?

They aren't answering questions because they don't have to.

Central Mom said...

Wouldn't they have to supply answers if someone filed a freedom of information request as to the internal financial calculations happening here? SPS is a public agency after all...And then perhaps a group of concerned parents with analytical skills could see if they could match the proposed savings in a safer, more equitable and more academic achievement-focused way.

Of course, it would have to be broadcast quite publicly that parents had to take this action in the absence of a reasonable period of discourse or alternatives from the district.

Central Mom said...

And, on the publicity beat, given that MGJ got a high profile "hooray" story from the local press on Sunday...

Who knows an assignment reporter at KUOW? This might make an excellent call-in topic.

As stated earlier, I am generally worried about the safety of K-5 students travelling for an 8 a.m. start. For myself, I've realized that this proposal will cost our 2-parents-working family @ $2000 a year. (That's getting a trusted childcare provider at $12 an hour to add an extra hour of care for 9 months.) Does that come at the expense of being able to support my child's school with fundraising dollars? You betcha.

Sahila said...

You know what the real strategy is, right?

Make it so untenable for families to bus their kids to schools that over time the buses will be half empty and then they'll stop the service saying the demand isnt there!

dont you know that one of the best bluffs is to offer something you're supposed to provide but with unpalatable conditions and with a take it or leave it approach (no public consultation), and then when people refuse to take up the option cos it doesnt work for them, withdraw the service altogether, passing the buck/blame/responsibility by whining:

'well, we tried... all we were doing was trying to do the right thing by our constituents and save $2M, and they just didnt want to understand and accept the necessity - they wouldnt work with us in the interests of their kids"...

SPSMom said...

All you need to do is take the K8s off the list and offer highschools waivers to set their start times if they qualify and then you have a really good plan. So, what does that in terms of savings? They say that moving K8's to the 9:15 tier loses $50k in savings per school. How many K8s are there, 5 or 6? So that means that this plan would save them $1.7million.

Why does this need to be an all or nothing proposal? Why can't the board approve a plan that saves $1.7 million and then move onto the next idea?

Johnny Calcagno said...

SPSMom,

The $50K saving figure is actually $45K, and the savings are per bus, not per school. Since most high schools are off the list, and most middle schools are already at the earlier bell time, I don’t believe that simply taking K-8’s off the 8:00 list is a solution that will provide a net savings of $1.7 million, using the District’s tiered methodology and numbers.

There were some additional details in the 2/11 meeting that were not provided in the 3/4 meeting, and you can see them here.

Should this plan go forward, my understanding is that $2.2 million will not be the actual saving in the end. It will most likely be less, because of the loss of some state reimbursements. I believe Tom Bishop said that that number  is in the $300K-$400K range, although he said he felt that they could figure out a way to retain at least a portion of it. I didn’t follow up on how exactly that would happen or get any more specifics.

Dorothy said...

"All you need to do is take the K8s off the list and offer highschools waivers to set their start times if they qualify and then you have a really good plan."

I dunno. What HSs would qualify for waivers? I'd guess most high schools are in the position of having their start time dictated by a small minority of yellow bus riders. How do you get a waiver? And it doesn't really address the middle school children and their developmental needs. I'd posit that the early adolescent is more at risk (for safety and for academic failure) with sleep deficit issues than older adolescents (except the sleep deprived that are driving themselves to school). And the safety issue... I don't know anyone who lets their early elementary student walk to school or stand at the bus alone without an adult, but those 6th graders are routinely in that position. If we claim that the safety studies are credible, middle school students should be the ones then (according to the safety data) who need to be commuting in daylight.

The cluster stops might save time and money for the district, and some families will find them a plus, but many parents and kids are going to find them a huge hassle.

Frankly, the district has no idea how much confusion, displacement, anger and resentment this is going to lead to. No one will know the whole extent of the chaos until the Fall. I think it will lead to a "throw the bums out" cleansing of the board and shorten MGJ's career in Seattle.

another mom said...

So if it is not 2.2 million in savings, why is it being promoted as such? If reimbursements from the state are going to be lost, then why is that not built into the plan? Don't tell me you are cutting 2.2 million when the reality is closer to 1.75

I agree with you Dorothy. I think that the chaos is going to emerge in the fall or perhaps even in May when assignments are mailed. Given the closing of schools and now changing of belltimes, we will see how much the perception of instability plays out. How much the current economy will drive families back to SPS is not really known.

Johnny- thanks for the link to the board mtg.

Charlie Mas said...

If the $2.2 million is on the gross, which it appears to be from the calculations shown in the Board presentation of 2/11, then the net savings to the District are closer to $300,000 to $400,000, which is MUCH less than the $2.2 million they are tossing around.

There may be people who think this change is worth $2.2million who won't thing it's worth $300,000.

I don't know why they even talk about $2.2 million.

The cluster stops will work for some people but we're hearing stories of other cluster stops that have to be revised. Who will revise them? Transportation? Is Transportation good about that or do they tell people "tough luck"?

momster said...

back when i was paying attention and had reason to know, the state's formula reimbursed approximately 1/2 of the district's actual transportation cost - which - wonkiness ahead - meant that *not* providing transportation could actually result in a loss of revenue - because you can't be reimbursed for transportation you don't provide.

not saying that's what's happening now (because they still are proposing to transport kids, whether yellow bus or metro) - just saying it's complicated.

ospi reports
for 2008 say total cost was $29MM and state reimbursement revenue was $16 - so a little more than half. The rest comes from the operating levy, for the most part.

BUT - if they cut the cost but still transport the students roughly the same distance, it could perhaps be that the gross savings is the net savings.

And if they cut out all the cabs they say they're using to get special needs kids to metro high schools, they probably will save some $$.

It would be interesting to make a FOIA request to see what they'd give you - but they have lots of ways of giving you nothing - or nothing useful anyway.

See also here for the calculation of the reimbursement - all based on the week in Oct when they calculate the ridership - with weighting of students by the "radius mile" they travel.

(Now that would be a protest - boycott the yellow buses during the October count week = no transportation reimbursement from the state!)

momster said...

apologies - bad link or something. For the 2008 numbers, it's the F-196 report at OSPI under Business/Grants, Apportionment Reports/Reports/District Reports

You really have to want to find this stuff.

Try again: here?

Page 57 - Pupil Transportation = Program 99

momster said...

ps - just looked at johnny calcagno's enrollment numbers spreadsheet and have this reaction:

would the sup't and board screw 5000 students for a $2.2MM for a change they think is just a matter of adjusting schedules here and there? in a heartbeat.

SPSMom said...

"The $50K saving figure is actually $45K, and the savings are per bus, not per school."

Oh, that makes a huge difference.

Question, the original plan did not have all the K8s on the list, I believe TOPS and Blaine were added later. So why didn't the savings to the district go up with these additional schools added, each with at least 5-7 busses?

Also, questioning the real savings here, Charlie has thrown out a figure of $300K. How do we really find out what this plan will save the district?

It is starting to feel to me like the district is hiding behind the budget deficit to standardize bell times, just to make things look tidy on paper. Uniforms? That will make us look extra tidy.

And lastly, when will we begin to hear of district staff cuts recommended by the audit, that they seem to keep ignoring?

another mom said...

Cuts to central staff have started but maybe not made public yet. Michelle Corker being one.

Broadview Girl said...

Both of my kids attend Broadview Thomson K-8 and we just recently found out about this issue. I will be contacting all of the above people (thank you for putting all of the information together). I am curious to find out what the REAL savings would be. If what Charlie Mas said above is correct and the real savings are closer to $400,000 where can I get the information to support that? I would like to get more parents involved in contacting the Board and District and I think if we can show the real savings are not anywhere near what they are saying I could get a lot more parent involvement to fight this. Thank you for all your information, I have been quoting this site often in the last few days!

pdberk said...

A recent article in the New York Times spoke of a trend in LATER start times at several districts around the country. Studies of these classrooms documented clear academic improvement using several measures. The researchers posit that the improvement is due to students getting more sleep. With earlier start times here we can expect to see a decrease in academic performance by most measures.I know we need to save money, but how can a change that will lead to worse performance be justified? What financial costs will we incur from district-wide reduced performance?

Easy Reader said...

Well, this is certainly interesting as the school district that my kids go to in Oregon, Reynolds School District, is proposing that elementary school start at 7:30! No other school around our area even starts until 8 am and some start at 9 am. I think the adult decision makers are out of touch with what is best for kids and families. I appreciate hearing you discuss your current issue and in realizing that the decision makers are problematic all around.