Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Wonder Why The District is Silent on this Issue

This blurb appeared in today's Times:

"Fuel and energy costs are rising so quickly for the United States' public school districts that nearly one in seven is considering cutting back to four-day weeks this fall. One in four is considering limits on athletics and other extracurricular activities, and nearly one in three is eliminating teaching jobs.

In the first detailed look at how fuel costs are affecting schools, a survey by the American Association of School Administrators found that 99 percent of 546 superintendents contacted said they're feeling the pinch, and 77 percent said they're not getting any help from their state."

I've read more and more of these stories, most of them about how states are limiting bus service (this is the first I have heard about 4-day weeks).

And yet, our district, with a very liberal transportation policy, is mum. Does the district seriously have the money, for the next 2 years until we have a new assignment plan that probably will curtail transportation, to keep up our transportation? The price of gas is slowly going down but I doubt it will go down enough to make a huge difference.

One of those things that make you go, "What's up with that?"


Roy Smith said...

Here's a longer article on the same subject that appeared in USA Today: Fuel prices force schools to weigh class, staff cuts

Given the complete silence on the issue, it is my suspicion that SPS has no plan whatsoever and is just hoping against all evidence for it somehow to work out.

anonymous said...

I don't like the idea of a 4 day week, however, I think it is time for SPS to tighten up their liberal transportation policy.

All city draw schools should be located in a central location, so that the students from all of the schools could share buses. Housing an all city draw in West Seattle or North Seattle (close to Shoreline) just doesn't make sense. And it's not just the fuel, it the hour plus commute, each way, for many of these kids.

Within clusters families should have transportation to their reference school, and maybe one or two other neighborhood schools. We do not need to offer all cluster transportation. Some clusters such as the NE are long. It stretches from 145th (Shoreline border) to Sandpoint Way! It just doesn't make sense to provide transportation for these distances. We live 3 miles from my sons school, 7 minutes by car, yet he has a one hour commute. He is one of the first on the bus and it takes an hour to snake through several neighborhoods before getting to his school. We do not use the bus.

I do give SPS credit for beginning to move high schools to Metro - that is a step in the right direction!

I don't think that reducing transportation has to be accompanied by limited choice. Rather, I think that you should still have the option of choosing whatever school you want, however, if it is out of the yellow bus area, then you should be responsible for providing the transportation. I know not everyone can do this, and that many think this seems elitist, but what other options are there?

Melissa Westbrook said...

Well, people have asked about free/reduced lunch getting free transportation to schools outside their reference area with other people paying for the transportation. Don't know if that's too complicated (or feasible - it can be a hardship for someone to pay for transportation even if they are not free/reduced lunch).

I wouldn't support choice if it were only available to people with their own transportation. I think that would divide people.

I would support transportation support for alternative schools because they are deliberately set up to be different from neighborhood schools and people should have access to that choice within reason (there is roughly the same number of alternative schools in the NE, NW, Central, West Seattle and SE but not enough equality in variety - for example, QA/Magnolia/Central have two alternative high schools).

I've seen the buses snaking through the neighborhoods and it puzzles me. Can't kids be dropped off at the closest main intersection without going down every street (especially middle school kids)? I've always wondered if looking at actual routes might not saving money/time?

anonymous said...

If you provided transportation only to the free/reduced rate lunch kids, you would still have to run the buses all over the city and pay for the fuel, and have the long commutes.

I remember a few years the idea of paying for transportation was floating around. If a family were to choose a school other than their reference school, or designated alternative schools they would pay for yellow bus transportation, and of course, free reduced rate lunch families would not have to pay.

That sounded like a great idea to me, but I thought I heard there might be some legal issues with charging for transportation???

Charlie Mas said...

The District says that low-income families move around a lot, so they have bigger clusters in the low-income parts of town to kids living there can stay at the same school - with transportation - despite frequent address changes.

I have not seen - or even heard of - data that supports this practice. That doesn't mean they don't have it, but I'd sure like to see it.

Despite the liberal transportation policy, some schools, particularly those with a high concentration of students from low-income households, have highly transient populations. For example, Gatzert had an average enrollment of 334 last year and a total of 133 transfers in and out (78 in, 73 out). Over one third of the school's students changed schools during the year. I presume the apparent discrepancy between the in and our counts and the total is a consequence of 18 students who transfered both in and out in that year. At Emerson, the average enrollment was 258 and there were a total of 62 transfers. Hawthorne, with the same average enrollment, 258, had 74 transfers.

So there is no doubt that low-income students change schools more often, but where is the evidence that big clusters effectively reduce the number of transfers?

Or do the big clusters just create the illusion of greater choice?

Roy Smith said...

The District says . . . they have bigger clusters in the low-income parts of town so kids living there can stay at the same school - with transportation - despite frequent address changes.

Huh? The South and Southeast clusters both have 6 elementary schools, exactly the same number as the majority of clusters in the district. The two largest clusters are Central (half of which this theory might make sense in) and Northwest (which is definitely not low-income). The South and Southeast clusters aren't noticeably different from the other clusters in terms of amount of geographical area, either.

SolvayGirl said...

I live in the Southend near Seward Park and know a number of families with students at both Lowell and TOPS who share buses. I say buses because there were at least two different buses picking up students from the same neighborhood. One family actually had one child assigned to one bus, and one to the other! None of us could ever figure out why there were two buses running apparently the same route at the same time--neither was full. If they had two buses...why didn't just one go to TOPS and one to Lowell? It made no sense to any of us.

Maureen said...

Is it possible that the District negotiated a fixed cost contract with the carrier (mostly "First Student" I believe) so they don't care about the price of gas? Or is the contract just for buses and drivers and the District pays for gas? I can't find a reference on the SPS web site.

anonyms said...

QA-Magnolia seems to be a geographically very large cluster. 2 very empty buses travel each direction. Whenever a kid stops using the bus or moves away, the bus still passes by that stop for all eternity. So, the bus ride is long and windy, but carries very few kids.

anonymous said...

When we were kids the our bus made about 6 or 7 stops and at each stop picked up 8-10 kids. My child's bus currently makes almost 35 stops and most stops only pick up one or two kids.

Can't we streamline? Must every bus snake through every neighborhood in the cluster picking up one kid at a a time?

anonymous said...

Also, if we are going to have cluster wide transportation why can't we have multi-school buses? We could have one bus traveling from North to South or east to west and have it service several schools along it's route (within its cluster). That would allow it to pick up more kids at each stop, thus having it make fewer stops. I'm thinking in the NE cluster if a bus picked up 8-10 kids, at a few stops in the north part of the cluster, say near Summit, it could head south and service John Rogers, Wedgewood, Thornton Creek, View Ridge, Bryant. It could effectively cut the amount of stops by half, and reduce commute time.

Maureen said...

I know there are rules (state? District?) about what kind of streets different age kids are allowed to cross on the way to a bus. What seems odd to me is that those rules seem to be different than the rules to walk to a school. (I had a very difficult time getting my 4th grader onto the bus her 8th grade brother was assigned to even though neighborhood kindergarteners were expected to cross the same streets (plus Aurora!) to get to Bagley.)

If we're looking to reduce costs, why not have kids congregate at their neighborhood schools and then buses shuttle them from there? If transportation was limited to two or three reference area schools (leaving out alternatives for now) buses could just run a circuit amongst them and shuttle kids, thus preserving some choice and reducing costs. (buses could add a few non-school stops for neighborhoods that are less walkable).

What exactly are the rules that govern transport (distance allowed to walk, type of streets allowed to cross, amount of time on bus...for dift age kids)? Are rules state level or District? Is this available online?

Jet City mom said...

What they are doing in Jersey

This trend extends far beyond Northern New Jersey. Skyrocketing fuel costs and the spiraling economy are forcing districts nationwide to find innovative ways to stretch their transportation dollars.

Rhea County in eastern Tennessee canceled school for several days last year to reduce transportation costs. More recently, the Palisades School District in Allentown, Pa., eliminated two bus routes. Shawnee, Okla., school officials are considering cutting 12 routes. And the Auburn School District in Seattle consolidated bus stops, making students walk farther.

Meanwhile, scores of schools across the United States are reducing field trips and sports activities, consolidating buses and changing driving patterns in an effort to slash the bus budget.

Bus companies are also looking for ways to slow the flow of gasoline.

First Student, a bus company that services districts across North America, including New Jersey, launched a no idling policy to reduce school bus emissions. The drivers are trained to turn off their engines as soon as possible after parking and limit idling time during warm up. This helps burn less fuel and cuts back on pollution, said Kimberly Mulcahy, a company spokesperson.

Auburn added about $220,000 to its fuel budget at midyear, as did Seattle, which added about $160,000 as of March, and Kent, which expects to add about $40,000-$50,000....

Although most school districts projected higher fuel costs for the year, Northshore was among the few to guess right, adding about $250,000 to a budget of $850,000. School buses transport some 400,000 students statewide and typically get about six to seven miles per gallon.

6 mpg? doesn't sound too efficient-

Celeste Flint covered this issue for the Times in June.

Melissa Westbrook said...

These are all good questions and comments.

Something to keep in mind as the district moves forward on an assignment plan. Parents want to to know what the state/local laws are about school buses and what can we all do to find efficiencies in our school transportation system.

Beth Bakeman said...

For what it's worth, we do have buses that serve multiple schools, at least in the south end.

The bus that took them to Kimball in kindergarten also stopped at Orca.

One of my biggest worries about buses is the health risk of kids inhaling the exhaust. I met a woman last spring who is involved in a study at UW on that issue.

Jet City mom said...

as far as I can tell- washington state has only guidelines for siteing of schools including building size and acreage- as well as what transportation options should be provided.

look up transportation demand strategies-Phase 1,
for public schools at website

It was submitted last November.
I was surprised to read that only 42% of eligible students in Washington ride the bus.

My D rides Metro- but when she attended a school with a yellow bus, including in high school- oftentimes number of bus was hard to locate- bus was not in same place & with so many buses at a school , they left before she could find the right one. It was pretty sad & transportation wasn't any help.

TwinMom2003 said...

I find the district bussing policy to be quite odd. Especially, when they assign siblings to separate schools and offer bussing as a resolution vs. changing the enrollment assignment to the same school.

It seems an overly complicated and expensive practice.

Jet City mom said...

When families sell vehicles and start using flexcars to save money- we now have been walking to the grocery store ( which is about a mile away), instead of wasting gas on short trips.

It is bizarre that the school district is the only one not tightening it's belt.
Committee for Education Excellence reported this & this was before gas went to over $4.00

Fiscal viability:
The SPS District has a $437 million budget. Committee members discovered that over the next five years, the district is projected to have cumulative deficits ranging from $15 million to $44 million. The report states structural deficits are due to district policy choices in transportation, facilities, salary clauses in the 2004 teacher contracts and limitations of the state-funding model. The top three recommendations to balance the budget include:

*Close schools to eliminate wasteful spending on buildings that are not full due to huge enrollment declines over the last 30 years through a process guided by a consideration for demographic trends, academic out comes and building conditions.

*Maximize the revenue potential of the district's surplus real estate.

*Reduce the gap between transportation services provided by the district and transportation funding allocated by the state by charging reasonable fees for some options.

And they have done what to address the budget-? oh yeah, given the supe a 10% raise.

In my world, raises come when the company can afford it and when there is evidence that you earned it- not as a carrot to encourage future performance.

anonyms said...

Something to keep in mind as the district moves forward on an assignment plan.

Ha! Moves forward, you say? No movement anywhere!

Tangerine said...

Thank you for sharing.
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