Eric B. has a proposal for transportation:
School Bell Times – A New Proposal
Seattle Public Schools currently operates under a multi-tier system for yellow bus arrivals and school starts. High schools and middle schools start at about 8:00am or 8:30am. K-8 schools generally start at about 8:20am or 9:15am, and K-5 schools start between 8:50am and 9:30am. The varying start times allow several schools to share the same bus,reducing overall costs.
District staff recently proposed a revised schedule, which would reduce the number of buses used even further. The staff proposal would have high schools, middle schools, and K-8 schools on a three-tier system, sharing the same group of buses. Start times would be approximately 7:25am, 8:20am, and 9:15am for the various schools. The K-5 schools would be on a 2-tier system, with start times at approximately 8:40am and 9:35am.
As parents, we propose an alternative system. Under the proposed system, all schools would be divided into two tiers of bus arrival times. The first tier would serve only K-5 elementary students, and would have a target arrival time of 8:00am. The second tier would serve all remaining elementary schools plus K-8, middle, and high schools, and would have a target arrival time of 9:00am. Departure times from schools would be approximately 2:35pm for the first tier and and 3:35pm (elementary) or 3:55pm (secondary) for the second tier.
For simplicity, we would retain some aspects of the staff proposal. Assumed bus capacities are the same as the staff proposal. The planned bus ride time is also the same, at 45 minutes. Some of these factors could be tweaked as needed in developing the plan if it is adopted.
The main benefit is to move secondary students to a start time later in the day and elementary students earlier in the day, aligning the school times with optimum learning times in the average student’s body clock. The best current research shows that these students have better academic outcomes across the board when school times are aligned this way. For this reason, the Board (at the fall retreat) asked staff to consider ways to move secondary start times later. The Washington State PTSA recently voted on a measure recommending that the start times for secondary students be moved later. This proposal would improve academic outcomes.
In addition to the main benefits listed above, there are several side benefits:
- The current late start time for third-tier elementary schools places significant strains on families with two working parents. These families have to choose between asking their employer for an extremely late start time (eg 10:30am) or paying for before-school child care. While many businesses offer flex time to professional employees, few are willing to flex that far. Flex time is often unavailable for shift workers. The staff proposal would bring this late start time to about half of the elementary schools in the District.
- Under the new system, bus and start times for most schools would be standardized, and would be quite predictable. While one or two elementary schools might have to switch tiers in a given year to even out the numbers of buses in each tier, the vast majority would stay constant.
- With only two tiers, buses would be more available in the middle of the day for field trips. Under the current multi-tier system, it is very difficult for school staff to get a bus assigned for a field trip more than a couple of hours long. This would likely become worse under the system proposed by staff.
- Buses are more likely to be on time. Under the new proposal, bus drivers would have approximately 15 minutes between delivery of students at the first tier school and beginning the second tier route. This compares to 10 minutes in the staff proposal. The extra few minutes will increase system reliability and reduce the number of students delivered late to the second tier school.
As with any plan, this proposed plan has some drawbacks. These are addressed in turn, with ways to mitigate them.
Civil Twilight: Under this proposal,elementary students would be waiting for the bus before civil twilight in the morning for some of the year. With an estimated ride time of 45 minutes,the earliest bus stop would be at 7:15. This is before civil twilight from the last week of October to the first week of March. This could be mitigated by locating bus stops at well-lit intersections and as much as possible where there is a safe place for students to wait for the bus. Issues with civil twilight are not unique to our proposal. The staff proposal would have the first bus stop for elementary students at 7:40. This is before civil twilight from mid-November to mid-February. The net difference to our proposal is only about 4 weeks of class time, one of which is traditionally occupied by mid-winter break. Also, the plan proposed by staff could have some K-8 elementary students picked up at 6:25, which is before civil twilight from mid-September to late March.
Cost: This proposal is expected to be cost-neutral for elementary schools as compared to the staff proposal, since both plans use two tiers of buses for elementary school transportation. It would likely cost somewhat more than the staff proposal for middle and high school transportation. However, the number of middle and high school students transported on yellow buses is far lower than the number of elementary school students, since most high school students are transported on Metro buses. This has the effect of reducing the overall cost difference. A full cost analysis is still needed, and would likely need staff input. We also propose other cost-saving measures to reduce costs elsewhere in the transportation budget. These savings may offset the increased cost of yellow bus transportation.
After-School Activities and Sports: With middle and high schools releasing students near 4:00pm, the time available for after-school activities and sports is substantially reduced under this proposal. However, some of these programs could move to before school, and others could move later in the evening. Also, we note that the staff proposal has the third tier of K-8, middle, and high schools released at about 4:00 as well, so the same accommodations would need to be made at those schools under the staff proposal.
Other Potential Cost Savings
Some other areas of cost savings and/or revenue enhancements are as follows:
- Reducing truancy and dropout rates among secondary students would increase the number of students in school overall, resulting in an increase in state funding. Grants may also be available to improve educational outcomes by aligning school schedules to the average student’s body clock.
- Surveying parents to determine if they plan to use yellow bus transportation may allow the District to reduce unneeded bus stops. Many students are transported to school by parents or other caregivers. Removing students who will not ride the bus from the rolls will allow more efficient use of buses and scheduling of stops.
- Increased reliability of buses will result in fewer “emergency” calls to replace a late or no-show buses.
This proposal attempts to follow best practices as defined by research data to align the school day to the average student’s body clock. Current research indicates that this will improve academic outcomes, from test scores to absenteeism to dropout rates to school nurse visits. There are other ancillary benefits as well. The drawbacks are relatively minor, and compare relatively favorably to the staff proposal already presented to the Board. Costs would increase somewhat, but the overall cost impact would be relatively minor. Overall, we believe that the potential benefits far outweigh the costs. We appreciate your time in reviewing this proposal and hope that you will recommend that District staff review it for inclusion as an option when the Board votes on May 16.