Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Bus Schedules May Change

Thank goodness for our readers.   I try to go through the Board agendas with a fine-tooth comb but I usually miss something.   The miss this time is the introduction of Revisions to Transportation Service Standards for 2012013 item.

The issue is the district trying to reduce costs and this plan says it would save a little over $1M per year.

The Operations Committee of the Whole approved this measure.  However,

Individual Board members have requested that the district consider later bell times for secondary
schools. Board members have asked staff to review the current bell times and any relevant research and propose any necessary changes to the Board. The Superintendent will review the staff’s recommendation(s) and report back to the Board prior to October 2012.

Background Info:

District transportation expenses have exceeded budget for each of the past three years. The trend
has continued for the current (2011 – 2012) school year. On December 15, 2011, the Operations
Committee was informed transportation expenditures were estimated to be $2.1M above budget.
On February 8, 2012, the Board was informed transportation expenditures were projected to be
$1.7M to $2.8M above budget. Several Directors then requested options for reducing
transportation costs. 

While current year transportation expenses (excluding field trips and athletic event trips) are
projected to be over budget, staff identified three changes which will reduce transportation costs
by a minimum of $1,012,000 for next year (2012 – 2013). These changes are: 

- Move 13 bus routes from tier two to tier one (affecting the start time of 2 to 6

- Implement standard school arrival and school departure times for each tier; 
- Return to the 45 minute ride-time standard (from the 25 minute target). 

Bus arrival / departure schedules were revised in February of 2012 to provide more flexibility in
serving schools with varying length of day as well as adding additional flexibility for first tier
elementary schedules. Variation in school schedules and the inability to fill buses (because of the
short ride-time target), however, divert educational resources from the classroom.

If Transportation has been over budget for the last three years, then yes, there's a problem. 
They say the district can save some money by either extending ride times and standardizing school schedules OR by reducing transportation OR by cutting other programs.  Quite the Sophie's choice there.

My confusion is that we were told that going to a Neighborhood Assignment plan would save money.  What happened?  That should be in this Action Report.

Also, where is the public engagement?  There is a long timeline but it seems to be for transportation for 2013-2014.

Hilariously, one of the issues for the district if the standards are not revised is that during Open Enrollment they gave parents information based on current standards.

Worrying about what is or is not told to parents during Open Enrollment hasn't exactly been a strong suit with SPS.  How many times have people complained about changes after Open Enrollment but now when the district wants to change something, it's a worry?


This year district staff benchmarked the cost of transporting students with the three other
Washington districts that contract buses (attached). Our transportation cost per student
transported for the 2010 – 2011 school year was $1,650. This compares with $979 for Everett,
$1,058 for Tacoma; and $1,165 for Spokane.

Here's what the changes look like:

All Neighborhood Attendance Area Elementary and K-8 routes will be designed to operate with
travel times of 2545 minutes or less when feasible. All other routes will be designed to operate
with travel times of 60 minutes or less where feasible.

The District shall use a three (3) tier bus routing system to reduce both the number of vehicles
used and educational resources. Arrival times for buses at schools and departure times from
school shall be limited as follows:

                                                                    AM    PM  (arrival/departure)
First Tier - HS/MS/K8/Options                  7:10   2:05
Second Tier  - HS/MS/K8/Options             8:05   3:00
Second Tier -  Elementary                          8:25   3:00
Third Tier -  HS/MS/K8/Options                9:00   3:55
Third Tier -  Elementary                             9:20   3:55


SE Mom said...

Just read on Seattle Times website that Seattle Schools buses may be running up to 90 minutes late due to the violent May Day protests still going on downtown.

SE Mom said...

Just read on Seattle Times website that Seattle Schools buses may be running up to 90 minutes late due to the violent May Day protests still going on downtown.

mirmac1 said...

First, I would like to offer some background that I received third-hand but have no problem believing. At the Transportation Oversight session a few months back, they dropped the bombshell about the $2M overrun(!) At the time, the only reason I heard was trotted out (hey! SPS should record these sessions if they don't want me poppin' off!) was the evil SpEd preschools had the audacity of setting different start times than the K-5s they're housed in. Knowing as I do that there aren't that many SpEd/Headstart PreK to pin this snafu on, I made sure to attend the Finance Committee when the $$$ "special investigative committee" would report on their findings. Funny, but at that meeting there was little mention of that darn SpEd budget buster.

You see, the $2M overrun is on a (likely unrealistic) $4M "savings" expected from the community stops/changed standards/etc makeover. I am VERY tired of well-paid administrators copping out to the easy strawman "SpEd's to blame" argument.

Am I exaggerating? Take a look at the attachments to the board action. Under "savings" for PreK start times, some $$ transportation expert inserted "BIG". Okay, "BIG" is why you make the BIG bucks. Meanwhile, once someone bothered to actually apply that managerial magic they are paid for, they saw that the change in travel time standards, addition of yet another tier, and district bell time alignment had an actual measured impact.

Personally, it is already difficult for HS/MS/K-8 kids to get up, let alone to be at school by 7:10am. Lend me your crystal ball. My guess is a) there won't be a $4M savings; and b) my child will be fatigued and will struggle with homework and getting enough sleep.

Anonymous said...

Dumb question. Are the "tiers" set each year or can I tell by what tier my school is this year what tier we will be in under this plan?

Anonymous said...

Sorry, forgot to sign my name,

Anonymous said...

They switched to a "neighborhood" plan, but there are still a lot of grandfathered-in kids from outside of our attendance area at my child's elementary school. The result is 5 or 6, big, but nearly empty, buses. It seems like they could save a lot of money if they switched to more economical vehicles for smaller loads, but I suppose that would require way too much coordination if they are operating three tiers of transportation.
-North End Mom

Anonymous said...

Under NSAP our school has MORE buses than it did before.


Anonymous said...

Well - coincidentally, 3 years ago is when Tom Bishop took over transporation - see any linkage there????

Gee, that couldn't be part of the reason he was recently laid off, could it?

This is a move to get things back on track from the mess that Bishop made - NOT an attempt to screw things up more.

-in the know

Dorothy Neville said...

There has also been talk of use-or-lose. In some districts, if one does not ride the bus for some period of time, their right to the ride goes away. One reason in Seattle for almost empty buses is that many kids who are guaranteed a bus don't use it. Yet all year long, the bus is available. If we can consolidate the buses by adjusting routes to prune the kids who haven't taken the bus by November or so, that might save some money.

One of the frustrating things here is that the board has heard about the proposed changes, but not (at least in committee) the details of which schools would be affected and how.

Charlie Mas said...

Here's what I don't get.

We out-source our transportation. There is an RFP and bids, and then a contract.

At that point, shouldn't our transportation costs be fixed? First Student, or whoever, has a contract to provide the bus service at an agreed price. How can the cost be radically different from that contracted price? How could it be $2 million different?

Anonymous said...

What happened to the concern over elementary children coming home in the dark in the pm?

Another thing to delve into are the highlighted comparison districts in the SPS "survey" linked on the Board report. Salem-Kiezer, Portland, and San Francisco are among them.

What's interesting is when you go to Portland's actual website. Start times for 6-8s (and wow, they have a lot of K-8s) are mostly between 9:05 and 9:15. Not 7:00. Middle schools in San Franscisco? They also start later, around 9:00, much later than the early bell time posted on SPS's "survey." So their comparisons are questionable.


Anonymous said...

Costs for field trip buses are up: $180 for an AM trip which used to be about $130. I think that started two-three years ago. That adds a lot to field trip costs. Two of my primary field trips are within ten minutes of school. That's a pretty short distance. May be the price of gas...


Anonymous said...


First - it isn't just the RFP bus contract - there are contracts with all 5 local cab companies, plus American Logistics. These are for specialized transport and/or mandated homeless kid transport. Not to mention flucutating fuel costs.

Reg ed transport is actually only a small part of the transport - think field trips, after school activities, Head Start, am/pm kindergarten, the Experimental Education Unit, specialized buses with wheelchair lifts for SPED and many more - extracurricular sports etc.

It's a massively complex system that isn't as predictable in it's usage as one might think at first glance.

in the know

Anonymous said...

Looking at bell times in SF, many high schools start around 8:00-8:15. The "First bell time" on the SPS transportation "survey" seems more like the outlier start time (7:50 for SF), and yet it is somehow being used to justify earlier start times here.

What's up with their survey numbers? They really aren't representative of how districts are operating.


Anonymous said...

If you look at the schools that start early in SF (7:50), a lot of them are elementaries. Just saying.

mirmac1 said...

in the know,

Look at the chart attached to the SBAR. The lion's share of the $$$ are "token/pass" and "basic". Last I checked SpEd did not fall in those categories. There was an utter lack of initial effort to get at the true reason for the budget bust. Complexity or not, there are tools and ways to affix a $$ other than "BIG". Would that fly in the private sector? I think not.

Anonymous said...

Believe me I am NOT defending the current management - by no means, no way. Staff pointed out the numerous issues with the 3 tier/reduced transport system long before it was implemented - to no avail. On that note:

1. I didnt say the lion's share didn't come from reg. ed transport - just that it isnt the only factor to cost overruns

2. 3 tier system actually uses MORE buses to work - there are actually MORE buses on the road right tnow han then under the previous incarnations of transport. Yes that's right - fewer students eligible to be transported, but in order to achieve the 25 minute route time, more buses were needed.

3. Every time an individual school has an early dismissal, again because of the tier system, upwards of 20 other routes are impacted and must be reworked. That costs money.

in the know

Jan said...

Unlike "in the know," I am a true no nothing here -- so I apologize in advance if this is stupid -- but maybe one thing we need to do is reevaluate the early dismissal policy (at least the one for individual schools, as opposed to district wide days) in light of the havoc it wreaks on busses. I get the feeling we dink around with early dismissal to avoid losing whole days (since we really don't want to go extra days). But it looks as though there are significant costs associated with the "death by a thousand cuts" early dismissal policy as well. No clear answers here -- just a thought.

Charlie Mas said...

Schools that want early dismissals will just have to pony up the transportation costs associated with them. That's all.

Anonymous said...

And the field trip costs are on top of the contract. I think probably those costs provide a buffer for the bottom-line costs in the contract. We took the lowest bidder. Laidlaw was a better vendor. In my opinion. Better drivers and better buses. Quite a few veteran Laidlaw drivers lost jobs as I recall.

Education costs a lot of money. Why people don't recognize that fact is beyond me. It serves everyone and it is expensive.


Unbelievable said...

Over budget? Well, surprise, surprise. Two busses from our West Seattle school stop at the same bus stop and let kids off. The busses are mostly empty (seriously, one bus may have 4 kids left on it once the first stop is made). Why two busses in the first place? Consolidate!

I also saw a bus letting a poor elementary school kid of at 4:47 today as I was driving my kid to her softball game. 4:47!! All I could think of was, that poor kid...wish I knew where he was being bussed from. No kid should be getting home from school at almost 5pm.


Anonymous said...


Put my K and 2ND GRADERS on a bus at 6:20 (no more guaranteed 25 minute rides, boy that lasted what? a year as a guarantee?)to get to a school at 7:10 for school at what? 7:20?!?!?! THIS IS COMPLETE BULLSHEEEEEEET.

THIS IS UNSAFE. Last year the Board SAID they didn't want kids walkin on the streets early because of darkness/rain. Global warming change the weather and dawn patterns?

How can this even be up for a vote? They've fired? the Transportation Guy right? Has the staff whoever that is even talked to a single parent? I don't even want a study because it is so clearly beyond the incompetance before me. Just show me A SINGLE PARENT that was approached with this stupid idea of a 7:10 bus arrival.

DO NOT TELL ME FOR A MINUTE this is to save us $$$$$$$$$$$. That's what you said last year when you upended our family at the last minute with scheduling. YOU COULDN'T BE BOTHERED TO SEE IF THE STUPID 3-TIER SYSTEM WORKED. (AND IT DIDN'T.) NOW YOU WANT MY LITTLE KIDS UP AT 5:30 to CATCH A BUS THAT ISN'T EVEN ON TIME THIS YEAR? THE SAME BUS THAT DIDN'T SAVE THE DISTRICT MONEY?

And THEN you expect these kids to LEARN?!? (#$*..all they'll want is breakfast and a (@#*U@# nap.

This is YOUR problem SPS administration plus board or whoever. YOURS. DO NOT FIX YOUR INCOMPENTENCE ON THE BACK OF LITTLE KIDS.

Everytime I think SPS can't get worse, it does. OUTRAGEOUS. JUST OUTRAGEOUS. I bet 9 out of 10 affected parents have NO IDEA this is on the table. @)(#*@(#*(#&$#&$

Let me repeat that: (@#*@)(#(&@#&#


Anonymous said...

SPITTING MAD, It looks like you are from a current Tier One Option or K8 school if you are ranting about that unacceptable bus arrival time proposal. But the rest of you: don't be complacent. Any school could be moved to that early slot should the staff/board so designate. Do you want your kid starting shortly after 7? I don't.

This whole proposal is light on detail and shoddy in is introduction. It needs rejection or tabling.

Savvy Voter

Po3 said...

Parents will be clawing over eachother to get into Tier II.

Tier I is absolutely outragous.

Maybe it's just time for the district to realize that cost saving measures don't work because this IS what it costs to transport students.

About the 5pm drop off yesterday, many busses were late due to rioting in downtown.

Anonymous said...

How can we find out which tier our school is in? 
Curious if this isn't linked somehow with the effort to start hs and middle schools later and elementarys earlier, given the natural sleep, wake, readiness cycles in kids.  That is to say that most younger kides rise earlier and most ms and hs kids are later risers.  Hence adjusting the start times may make sense from that perspective only.

Totally understand the frustration over lack of engagement, notice etc. I'm just trying to take a step back to see whether, aside from the potential disruption to my individual family, what the benefits could be to all students.

--ok mom

Anonymous said...

OK Mom Under what circumstances should my little kid or any other kid be walking to catch a bus at 6:20 in the morning every single day. That means a wake up at 5:45 at minimum. THIS IS NOT ACCEPTABLE. THIS IS NOT SAFE. THIS IS NOT ACADEMICALLY SOUND. NOT FOR MY KID NOT FOR ANY KID.


SP said...

ALERT ALL High School & Middle School Families:

Despite what the tiers/arrival times in the proposed Action report state, Joan Dingfield just confirmed "with Transportation" that ALL HS & MS will be in Tier I which means busses will arrive at 7:10am (and most likely school will start at 7:30 am)!!!

This is a HUGE change from the current average 8:00am start times!! We are going back to what research says is the wrong direction for teens and sleep requirements without properly notifying schools and families first for input.

Contact your Board members if you think this is absurd!!

(By the way, in the Action report it says that by agreement, Denny & Sealth will start 30 minutes different/staggard starting times, but all MS & HS are listed under Tier I currently. How can this be?).

SP said...

This also means that ALL HS & MS students will be out of school at 2:00pm each day!!!

Po3 said...

OK Mom, look again at the Tier structure. Some MS & HS will start 7, some at 8 and some at 9.
So sleep patterns clearly are not part of this proposal.

What would be smart is two tiers:
K-5s at dropped 7:45 (younger kids better in the morning.) MS, HS dropped at 8:30.

Decision would have to be made about K-8s, proabably the 7:45 drop since the schoool is mostly younder students.

Melissa Westbrook said...

One of the promises made to have Denny/Sealth share a campus is that they would NOT start at the same time.

Anonymous said...

Does this really mean that all high schools and middle schools are going to start at 7:30 in the morning next year? What? And no announcement to parents? This is an outrage. We can contact board members all we want, but I am sure they will nod their heads sadly, and do nothing.

What can we do?

Signed, Really?

Hippy Goodwife said...

We are at a first tier option k-8. We have not used the bus to get to school this year because it would pick our kids up before 7:00am. An hour and a half before school starts. Starting an hour earlier might just be the straw that makes us leave the district.

Lori said...

I think it's worth highlighting that the proposal says that 2-6 current Tier 2 schools will be moved to Tier 1 next year.

No one can afford to be complacent on this issue. You might be happy with your start time now, but you could be a Tier 1 school in the fall.

Patrick said...

Don't they have any idea why our transportation costs are so much higher than comparable districts?

Did we save anything by adopting the 3 tiered system we have now?

We usually do dropoffs at school, but every 3-4 weeks it works out better to take the bus. I guess we could give up the bus rides, but my daughter says the bus is usually full by the time it gets to school.

The proposed 1st tier times should be completely out of the question.

Anonymous said...

What about Hale? Don't they have special permission to have a later start time? A lot of people like Hale because of the later start.


Anonymous said...

I am not sure you are going to get cost down with Transportation despite NSAP. You have bus service for some alt/options, service on HS routes that Metro buses underserved, and APP kids to name some groups not on the usual NSAP routes. Factor in different start times for some schools because they are allowed to for whatever reason, then it's a hugh logistic problem.

If cost containment is what drives service, then you have to look at losing some bus service or face very early/late bus pickup/drop off and school start/end times. Something's gonna have to give. With all the construction in Seattle, travel time is up everywhere.

There might be some cost saving in re- examine certain underutilized routes later in school year and consolidating that, but affected people will squawk. If we standardize HS, MS, K-8, and ES start times, would that help? and would it help enough to make it a 2 tier system, not 3?

Just don't think there's an easy solution here. Any ideas?


Anonymous said...

I'm looking for a list of bus drop off/pick up times for schools, but can't find one on the SPS site. How do people know which schools would be affected? If someone can point me to the document, I'd appreciate it!

I have to add that some transportation/start time panic has happened every single year that my kids have been in SPS. Seriously.

- southpaw

Anonymous said...

This may be crazy, but if we do a transportation survey, what about the idea of charging for bus service (excluding FRL and spec ed kids)? Would people be willing to pay a little for some convenience and more sleep time for all kids?


Anonymous said...

I would really like to have consistent bell times from year to year. We have only been in SPS for three years (oldest now in second grade) and have had different bell times each year. Next year we will have a 3rd grader at one SPS school, a first grader at another SPS school, and a child starting preschool. This constant changing makes it impossible to plan anything, plus daycares require nonrefundable deposits far in advance so we end when we have to pay to hold a spot and then the times change.


Fed-up MS parent said...

Can someone please confirm the status of this proposal for new earlier start times for MS/HS - is it in the proposal stage or has it been approved? What are the proposed new start times? Realistically, what can we do as individual or coordinated group of parents to strongly object - what would or could have the most impact? MOST people do not read these blogs and most parents have no idea this is happening (happened???) 7:30 AM start time and 6:30-ish am pickup time for MS/HS is outragous and if this is really happening, we need to make parents aware so they can complain. Appreciate any feedback on how to truly get rid of insane proposal (which will save approx $1M?? that seems like pretty small change in the whole of the budget)

Anonymous said...

Fed-Up: Write the )(@#&(*@#& Board. NOW. They are discussing TONIGHT. I just flamed them hard. And note the updated - newest- thread on this blog. Where I posted my same comment as here. Continue the rant there so we can unite.


Anonymous said...

To calm myself down, I remind myself that in some districts across the US, there is no school bus transportation, only city buses. It could always be worse...

If memory serves me, some of the transportation changes were in response to the new state funding structure which is somehow related to the miles traveled and increases in efficiency. Districts were supposed to consider changes in bell times to maximize efficiency. Of course, those changes need to be balanced with what is best academically and safety wise, and that is where the staff analysis seems to fall short.


Melissa Westbrook said...

This is an Intro item which means the Board listens to staff and then decides if it is ready to move to a vote next Board meeting (in two weeks).

It's not ready.


Anonymous said...

Whether one rides the bus or not, the changes to the bus schedules impact the school start times or is it vice versa?

Currently at a Tier 3 Elementary, the start time is late as it is for working parents and then it impacts after school activities as the kids get out so late (and factoring in the bus ride).

Pushing the start/end times even later is absolutely ludicrous and infuriating. Frankly, I can't afford before and after care for my kids and I'm fortunate to have an understanding boss but that can't be the case for most parents.

The early times are pretty crazy, too.

How do I voice my concerns about this possible change?

Frustrated with Tier 3

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