Friday, May 04, 2012

Feigning Interest in Community Input

Seattle Public Schools is planning to radically revise transportation plans and school start and end times for the 2012-2013 school year after the Open Enrollment. They have told the Board that their plans are set and little, if any, variation is possible at this late date. This "late date" is four months before school begins.

Despite their total unwillingness to make any changes in their plans, the District regrets their complete refusal to offer any kind of community engagement whatsoever. So they are now trying to remedy that failure by soliciting public input on the transportation plans.

They have a web page about the planned changes to transportation.

From that web page:

Families urged to provide feedback
The transportation team recognizes the need for community engagement, but the time frame is short because the Superintendent will finalize bell times for all schools by the end of May. As a result, we urge families to provide their feedback via email at

For the short term, we are analyzing options aimed at both saving money and making our bus routes more reliable for our families.

The current proposal would:
  • Standardize our bell times from 21 different times to approximately six. 
  • Make our ride times longer (from 25 minutes to up to 45 minutes) so that we can use fewer buses. Each bus on the road costs the District $46,000 a year, and our goal is to remove 21 buses from the road. 
  • Ensure buses are full, therefore more efficient.
This is a complete sham of community engagement. There is no possibility that anything gathered through this process will influence the plan in any way. They are only doing this so they can later claim, disingenuously, that they did some community engagement. This is disgusting and the board should reject it.

The web page also describes the new Transportation Task Force, the one that they have been promising for over three years.

Task force to provide recommendations
For the long term, we have established a transportation task force that includes community members, staff from surrounding school districts, Seattle School District staff and special education parents. This group will help us determine a strategy for addressing transportation costs and efficiency measures for the 2013-14 school year and beyond. The group’s first meeting will be May 16 with the goal of providing recommendations to the School Board by fall 2012.
You will note that the Task Force is newly formed (does anyone remember a notice asking for volunteers?) The group's first meeting will be AFTER the board's vote on the transportation plan. There is a policy and a superintendent procedure that governs the formation of advisory committees. I'm curious about whether the policy or the procedure were followed.


Anonymous said...

If the school day is lengthened, does that fall under the teacher's contract, or do schools then pay for supervision of kids for the extra time they are at school and not in class? Some of the scenarios have a longer school day for elementary in order to tier the buses.

The announcement has no school specific changes, so it's hard to know what the actual changes are for your family and on what you're commenting. All of the scenarios seem plain awful for third tier schools.


Anonymous said...

Can someone fill me in on the difference between a first tier school and a second tier school etc?


Anonymous said...

The Seattle Schools main page takes you to the Transportation options. The "Three savings outlined" section has a link to "cost-saving ideas" that lists the alternatives and tiers.


Charlie Mas said...


Instead of "tier" substitute the words "bus trip of the day".

The idea is that each bus will run three routes each morning and afternoon. The bus will pick up students and drop them off at the first tier school, then drive around picking kids and drop them off at the second tier school, then drive around collecting kids and drop them off at the third tier school.

The District believes that by having each bus make three trips they will save money by using fewer buses and drivers.

Charlie Mas said...

I hope everyone recognizes how this change in transportation fits into a larger pattern of behavior by the District.

The pattern goes like this:

1. School District proposes a plan that will save them money, make management work easier, or suit some obscure goal of theirs not related to improving outcomes for students.

2. The proposal makes things worse for students, families, communities and/or teachers. People howl.

3. The School District responds with an offer of some small concession that slightly mitigates the harm done by the proposal.

4. The School District moves forward with the proposal despite the popular opposition while bragging about how the mitigation is going to more than make up for the problem they have created.

5. The School District fails or refuses to actually provide the promised mitigation.

You've seen this pattern, right? It was all over the place with the school closures.

With transportation, the pain of going to three tiers came with the promise that travel times would be capped at 25 minutes. That was the spoon full of sugar that was going to help the medicine go down.

Now the District says that the 25-minute travel time promise wasn't realistic and they are taking it back.

Anonymous said...

Riding in the Clown Car says

Yes. Yes. Yes. And Yes.

And a new disgraceful twist on the parent radar this morning. Note how the page (and certain Board leadership) now blame the transportation problems on the most vulnerable: Homeless kids. SPED students.

Who ARE these people downtown? Do we have Professionals or Lord of the Flies reality show contestants running this district?

Dorothy Neville said...

The three tiers might save on buses, but how can it save on drivers when the times add up to more than an 8 hour day per driver? Means we still are dealing with part time drivers or overtime.

Are their rules for how many hours a school bus driver can drive in a given day?

mirmac1 said...


Yes, that is low, isn't it? If SpEd and homeless are the cause of all these problems, then why isn't a fix proposed with the $$! cost avoidance/savings indicated? Wouldn't Boeing require that of its managers, Ms Carr?

At the Finance Committee meeting I sat in, the main reason given was the 25 min. ride time led to half empty buses. THAT was the cause. Quit blaming the vulnerable constituencies without a voice to talk back. I doubt they would make a similar statement re: Spectrum or APP.

Guess the crystall ball doesn't work as good as the numerous available and effective simulation/scheduling tools.

Anonymous said...

Do other districts go through this? Taskforce to develop a bus schedule? Why can't we survey the users and have SPS do the math for the transportation budget -follow where the money is going, look at various alternatives and crunch the number to come up with the cost of each plan. Tell the Super, the CFO, and Board what that cost will be in order to do it right.

I think the majority of people have been very tolerant and have put up with a lot. All they ask is some consistent, reasonable schedule that allows for normalcy of daily life. We want to understand, so please tell us why this is so hard to put together?

-how can we fix this?

Josh Hayes said...

For me, this is symptomatic of the larger problem at SPS, which is the constant ad hoc solution to the [sarcasm]completely unforeseeable[/sarcasm] problem o' the week.

Nobody down there at JSCEE seems to look beyond 5 o'clock today, and so problems seem to LOOM, rather than arriving at the usual pace. Is there nobody there whose job involves, you know, planning?

Anonymous said...

Look - the 3 tier idea was the brain child of a manager no longer employed by SPS - everyone with common sense in the Dept. told him 3 tiers at 25 minutes would not/could not work. He was however, more interested in looking good to Board et al ("we saved money - ha!) than addressing the reality of the situation.

All of this latest stuff is an attempt to fix the complete mess that individual made by refusing to listen to the people in his dept with the expertise.

25 minutes a route was NEVER possible - it just looked good on paper. But once the Board said go forth and do get to where we are today.

in the know

Melissa Westbrook said...

The webpage says this:
"We projected that this new system would save up to $4 million (and budgeted for a $3 million savings), but instead transportation staff informed the Board in February that it saved only $2 million."

This was not what was said at the Board meeting. Go listen. It was late and I was tired. Maybe I missed it but nope.

Annoyed 2, Olga Addae of SEA did bring up the issue you thought of, namely, teachers contracts and who watches these kids when they arrive at school even earlier. Good thought and I wonder what the district has to say to that one.

Rufus X said...

Re: A suggestion on the other tranportation thread (MS & HS sports before school):

As folks are providing feedback to the district about the transportation plan, I'd like to point out potential issues with the suggestion that a later MS/HS start time could mean sports practices before school. On the surface, this is a good suggestion, but I'll play devil's advocate and point out potential issues:

1) Coaches - many are not employed by the school, have other jobs, and work their personal/employment schedules around the team they're coaching. This may not be possible if the team trains in the morning.
2) Lighted field availability - for outdoor sports, some train on City Parks' fields; some of those fields are lit, some are not. The ones that are have a cost associated with it. Fall/winter AM practices would likely require lights, whereas afternoon practices do/may not.
3) Swim/diving teams - Again, their schedules may have to be reconciled with City Parks' pools.

Now before anyone jumps on me and says "why should we arrange middle and high school start times around a few, select athletic programs?", I'm not suggesting that we do. I for one would love for my middle and high school-aged students to start school at a decent hour based on their adolescent circadian rhythms. I'm all for it! Just wanted to point out the potential issues w/ what might seem like a simple solution (sports in the morning). It may not be as simple as that.

I personally don't see the problem with bumping both the MS/HS bell times AND sports/after-school activities to later times,and it's likely the latter would present challenges just as morning sports would.

SP said...

The SPS news release is an embarrassment, and misleading at best, with no links to the actual Revised Transportation Standards document being proposed.

Look at the timeline & contradictions:

1. On Feb. 1st, 2012 the Board approved the "Transportation Service Standards 2012-2013". Included is the statement, "Developing bus arrival/departure times and school start/end times must be coordinated, and approval of each must be completed PRIOR to the start of the Open Enrollment process." (Caps added)

2. Open Enrollment started March 27th- April 12th. Families commit to individual schools based on the district's assurances that bus and bell schedules are set for the 2012-13 school year.

3. A newly "Revised Transportation Service Standards 2012-2013" with major changes to bus schedules (and resulting bell times) was introduced to the Board on May 2, 2012 for Board vote on May 16th. This is in direct contradiction to the assurance that the district will not make any changes to bus & bell schedules after open enrollment has started.

4. What is wrong with this picture? What is wrong with this district?

Janis said...

Charlie -- I do not believe the Superintendent Procedure was following in establishing the Transportation Task Force. I spoke to Bob Westberg about this after the School Board meeting on Wed. night. He indicated that they have established the task force and its members, including community members. I told him that I follow the District pretty closely, particularly with respect to transportation issues and had not seen any notice seeking community members for a Transportation Task Force. He said they were given names of community members by the School Board. He invited me to join the Task Force. That's all well and good and I (and many other parents I know) have been ready and willing for years to roll up our sleeves and work on this issue with the District, but if you're finally going to establish the task force you've been promising for three years, the least you can do is follow your own procedure for announcing it to the community and soliciting community volunteers.

Beuller? Beuller? said...

Who is running the show here? The district has become a rudderless ship.

How can the Board even make a choice based on the limited info provided by staff? There are no cost estimates for the various scenarios, nor any comparisons of returning to the pre-NSAP 2-tiered times. The number of schools impacted isn't even discussed.

Charlie Mas said...

Everyone should be clear on what is wrong with the promise of 25 minute maximum bus ride.

The 25 minute timer starts when the first child gets on the bus. Each stop takes time for loading. Then there's the travel time between stops. Consequently, the buses can only make about five stops before they have to head to the school. There aren't enough kids at each stop so that five stops will fill the bus. As a result, the District needs to put more buses on the road because so many are running half-full (or less than half-full).

If the buses are allowed to take 45 minutes instead of 25, one bus can run a route that now takes two buses.

Of course, that means that the time between tiers needs to be expanded, which puts the first tier too early and the third tier too late.

Anonymous said...

In addition to the proposed bus times, it sure would be helpful to have a list of which schools will be in which tiers. We just had an email from our school (a K-8 option school) saying that they are planning to switch us to Tier 1, with busses dropping the kids off at 7:10 AM (meaning some kids would be picked up between 6:15 and 6:30 in the morning). Had the school not notified us, we'd would have had no idea that such a drastic change was even proposed (the current drop-off time is around 8:00).

Anonymous said...

In addition to the proposed bus times, it sure would be helpful to have a list of which schools will be in which tiers. We just had an email from our school (a K-8 option school) saying that they are planning to switch us to Tier 1, with busses dropping the kids off at 7:10 AM (meaning some kids would be picked up between 6:15 and 6:30 in the morning). Had the school not notified us, we'd would have had no idea that such a drastic change was even proposed (the current drop-off time is around 8:00).

Mom of 4

SP said...

....and the whole selling point of the new Assignment Plan with neighborhood schools was "predictability" for families and saving tons of $ on transportation...

(that's a big "F" for both subjects!)

Patrick said...

Is there anyone working at the District who can make a realistic cost estimate? Savings 50% of anticipated is a lot to be off.

What we ought to be asking is what a realistic 2-tier bus schedule would cost, but the District's performance makes me think there's no one there can answer such a useful question as that.

Anonymous said...

It sounds like we need more buses on the road to get rid of 3 tiers and back to some normalacy. Can we crunch the number and see how many more buses and at what cost to make that happen?

For long term planning, I think we do need to re-examine the cost of transporting kids to our many programs(APP,alt/options/creative/innovative/STEM/STEAM), to interim school site, and use of metro and how all of this feeds into the complexity and overall cost and sustainability of the system. The other big cost is the cost of changing bus schedule every year. That speaks to inefficiency, wasted manhour along with $ cost.

Perhaps we need to confine guarantee yellow bus service (exception for spec ed and homeless) to schools within cluster/geozones only.


mirmac1 said...


Here's a few more dates to add:

12/15/11 Ops Committee (scroll to bottom)

2/8/12 Board Oversight Session on Transportation

3/15/12 Ops Committee

It seems I keep reading different reasons/solutions/explanations in every one of these. If you can't get the story straight, then we're not getting the truth.

Frustrated PM said...

Beuller is right. My inner project manager is slowly going insane watching the obvious lack of documentation, written cost estimates, data projections, or any semblance or evidence of actual planning. The proposal put in from of the board was not only weak, but amateurish and lacking in even basic data.

It is obvious that much of this is being made up as they go along, without any real analysis to back it up. Why has this lack of professionalism been allowed to go on so long in this department? Where are the project manager types? Who is responsible for this mess?

Anonymous said...

thanks Charlie for that explanation about ride times. What if those 5 stops are community stops, and those are the only 5 stops on your bus route, would the numbers go up?

I'm envisioning something like a park and ride... buses don't make as many stops picking up individual kids or small groups, but when they stop at a community stop there are more kids there. Buses would get filled, there are fewer stops, and (presumably) the ride time could still stay manageable. (If my kid was on the bus 45 or 60 min, I'd figure out a way to drive him or carpool or something... that's too long on a bus)

I wonder if most parents would be happy w/ taking shifts at the community stop. I think we're all looking for a compromise that will provide a reasonable start/ end time and not too long of a ride.

transportationally challenged.

Anonymous said...

The bus my son currently rides to APP has 5 stops total. At our community stop, 25 kids get on. I know most of the other stops are also large. It works fine.

Bus rider

Anonymous said...

Riding in the Clown Car says:

To community stop proponents: Agree that it is a potential fantastic solution...buses are full, bus times actually do fit into 25 min and parents build community at the safety in numbers.

Which of course is why the transportation 'leader' and I use that term lightly, testified at the Wed board meeting in essence that "Ohhhhh noooo we can't do community stops. Won't work."

Bull)(*&&*. I'll be my 401K The department hasn't lifted even ONE finger to do analysis on the project. Somebody...ask them...have they? They should have at least a year of quantitative and qualitative data from my friends' school: TOPS. The school apparently suggested and most definitely piloted this program. Someone should talk to TOPS if the staff is going to baldface lie at a Board meeting saying community stops are not a possibility.

It is mindboggling how often staff says No We Can't when what they mean is No We Haven't Thought About It. The operations at JSIS stink like (insert your fave metaphor here).

If the board accepts lying to cover up lax operations, they are part of the problem and yes this is an explicit dig at the 2 board members - Carr, Martin-Morris - who cite their Boeing "operational excellence" experience ad nauseum. They have had months to steward and model program excellence on this subject and have blown it. They have actually managed to lead the district into doing less than nothing. They have led the district into yet another customer (family) revolt. Nice.

Janis said...

Community stops have also been a success at TOPS this year. At the beginning of the year, a few of the stops turned out to be at bad locations and we worked with the Trans. Dept to change those stops. Since then, no complaints from our families.

While the community stops are less convenient for some families, they understand that this saves money for the District. And, the feedback from TOPS parents has been extremely positive about the community building that takes place at the stops and the opportunity for parents to take turns waiting for the bus in the morning and meeting the bus in the afternoon.

I have written to the Board to let them know that community stops do work.

Anonymous said...

My son is on a third tier bus. It makes quite a few stops, certainly more than 5. According to the official schedule the route takes more than 25 minutes, and in practice it always runs late compared to the official schedule. The bus is quite full.

So I'm thinking that we already have next year's bus this year. Maybe nothing will actually change next year, except that they will change the official schedule to more closely match the actual schedule...

Third Tier

suep. said...

Pajama protest, anyone?

Here's an idea: At the meeting where the school board will vote on this insane transportation plan, how about if lots of SPS kids show up wearing their pajamas?

It would be a visual reminder to the board of what it means to roust kids out of bed earlier and earlier just to accommodate the transportation dept's latest crazy schemes.

(It would make a good photo opp...!)

mirmac1 said...

Okay, but your kid will never forgive you.

Anonymous said...

I am just completely dumbfounded that the District and Board are proposing moving middle and high schools to a 7:10 am start time. My kid would have to catch a bus at 6:15 AM. Are they insane? And I find it ironic that the WSPTA is sponsoring an amendment to move high school start times to later in the morning based on the reams of data that kids perform better, absenteeism decreases, etc. with a later start time - AT THE SAME TIME the District is considering a 7:10 am start.

This is nuts.

parent said...

7:10 is bus arrival time, start time would be closer to 7:30 (yes, still early).

Anonymous said...

Do not let the district divide and conquer, something it's 'famous' for.

No gradeband should be on buses at - what - 6:15 a.m. 6:30 a.m.?!?! for a 7:10 bus arrival time. Not high school. Not middle school. Not elementary school. That means the district is asking families to be up every day at 5:30or somesuch? Cmon, it simply does not pass a reality nor a safety check.

No gradeband should be starting school earlier than 8. That middle schools start at 7:45 right now is flat out bad educational practice driven by an inability for downtown to handle logistics professionally. Walk into a middle school at 1st period sometime and see how much quality learning is happening. Honestly, it is a joke.


Anonymous said...

A timely piece on school start times:

-later starts for middle school

Jan said...

I am completely baffled by the Transportation Task Force. What would have been so difficult about setting up a 10 day or 2 week window to take applications from interested folks? They aren't convening it for the 2012-13 year -- that horse is out of the barn and careening wildly down the lane. How hard could it possibly have been to follow the policy?

They may have picked all the right folks. They may be willing to add anyone else now who asks to be added (like Janis) but that isn't quite the point. If someone comes into my store, steals merchandise and then says nicely that he will put it back when I stop the theft -- it is still theft (by a nice-ish thief). If the District blows by the policy and just appoints a board willy nilly -- but then nicely agrees to add Janis and others who complain -- they are still totally out of compliance, and operating in complete disrespect of, the established policies (for no discernable reason other than laziness and complacency and utter lack of caring). I guess that makes them nice-ish rule breakers, but why couldn't they just care enough to follow the procedure. Look at FACMAC. It is not that hard to do.

Anonymous said...

Riding in the Clown Car says:

ArchStanton has produced another classic skewering of SPS administration. All the dysfunction in one movie poster and a left hook to the Waiting for Superman lemmings, too.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Sue, I'll show up in my pj's if it will help.

Mother of MS and HS students said...

Here is another great article on the importance of late start times for MS and HS students...based on research just published in the Harvard Journal Harvard journal Education Next. We CANNOT let them push start times earlier.


Edwards found that students who started middle schools an hour later in Wake County, North Carolina, saw their standardized test scores increase by 2.2 percentile points in math, and 1.5 percentile points in reading on average. The impact was greater for older students. Starting school an hour later had further benefits, he found: 12 fewer minutes of television-watching per day; nine more minutes devoted to homework per week; and an average of 1.3 fewer absences than other students.

See for detail...

Mother of MS and HS students said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mother of MS and HS students said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Let's not forget that in 2010-11, MS started 8:05 AM. In 2011-2012, they moved bell times back 15 mins to 7:50 AM (for the bulk of MS/HS). Now they are proposing to move bell times back an additional 30 mins, so a total of 45 mins within 2 yrs. Whether or not you support the idea of later start times for MS/HS, the issue to me is that the District seems to have a callous disregard for parents, especially working parents, who need a predictable schedule. The other big issue is the way they are trying to push this through without notifying the public. I think we need to focus on effective ways to make everyone aware this is happening and how we can get the Bd to table the idea, or outright vote it down. I know many involved parents and none of them had any idea about this.
- frustrated MS mom

Maureen said...

Let's not forget that in 2010-11, MS started 8:05 AM. In 2011-2012, they moved bell times back 15 mins to 7:50 AM (for the bulk of MS/HS). Now they are proposing to move bell times back an additional 30 mins, so a total of 45 mins within 2 yrs.

I'm starting to wonder if someone in the UW College of Education got a big grant to study the impact of start times and they bribed someone at SPS to create a 'natural experiment' that they could mine for their analysis. (better dust offmy tin foil hat!)