Saturday, March 14, 2009

Bell Times Finally in the Paper

The PI reported this morning about the upcoming changes in bell times. There were some interesting parts to this story.

"The change primarily would affect families with students at K-8s. Like most of the district's traditional elementary schools, the K-8s begin their day around 9:05 a.m. -- but next fall, would start more than an hour earlier.

In interviews and on local education blogs, parents appeared cool to the proposal. Some are concerned that the district's estimated savings may be rosier than reality; others worry that the shift would significantly boost their after-school child care costs."

Those statements clearly lay it out as to why parents are concerned:

  • Are the money savings truly there?
  • Significant changes to family schedules
  • Costs to families
A key statement was made by President De Bell:

"School Board President Michael DeBell said Friday that coordinated bell times could work, but he's advocating for them to be later -- 8:30 and 9:30 a.m.

Like many parents, he balks at the idea of a kindergartener waiting at a bus stop at 7 a.m., in the middle of a dark winter morning."

If Michael is saying this outloud, then it means that the staff will have its work cut out for them to convince him. His voice carried a lot of weight on the Board. Looking at the numbers, though, I can see Cheryl, Peter and Steve going for this with Michael, Harium and Mary on the other side. Sherry Carr could be the wild card unless Steve hears from a lot of people.

So how would parents feel with a 9:30 start for elementary? That's about 15-25 minutes later than most schools start. What about K-8 at 8:30? Is that a compromise you could live with?

The voice of parent, Lucy Sloman, rang true:

"I know they need to find efficiencies," Sloman said. "But these are the kinds of things that make parents think about not being in public schools. ... Every time they do this, it's another moment of feeling like you're not being heard."


Sahila said...

From the 2006 Committee for Excellence Final Report:

Recommendation: Reduce the gap between transportation services provided by Seattle Public Schools and transportation funding allocated by the state. Options are not mutually exclusive and include:
1. “Fee-for-T”: The following three options represent a continuum of options, based on number of students
impacted and magnitude of cost savings. In all cases, FRL-eligible (Free-and-Reduced Lunch), homeless students, and certain Special Ed students and would be exempt.
a. Charge for transportation to alternative schools/special programs/all-city draws.
Estimated annual savings of $0.5M - $1.5M.
b. Provide transportation to each student’s reference (neighborhood) school. Transportation to a school
other than the student’s reference school would be provided as long as the student’s family paid the
difference in cost. Estimated annual savings of $1.5M - $2.3M.
c. Convert all transportation to a fee-based model. Estimated annual savings of $2.2 - $4.2M, depending on whether a flat fee or the full excess cost above the state
allocation is charged.

2. Migrate to Metro: Continue the current system of busing elementary and middle school students on yellow school buses, but migrate high school students to Metro.* This would involve an SPS/Metro partnership to develop new routes to ensure student safety and convenience. Estimated annual savings of $2.5M - $3.0M. Expanding to include middle schools students would increase the potential cost savings.

Key Assumptions
• The current school choice model remains in place.**
• The impact of the Committee’s facilities reduction proposal, which could influence ridership, is not incorporated.
• Transportation costs attributed to Special Education programs are not included.

Case for Change
• In 2004-2005, the District spent $25.1M, or 6.0% of its total operating budget, on transportation. For the same period, the District received a transportation reimbursement of $13.4M from the state, thereby incurring a shortfall of $11.7M. This shortfall was covered, as it has been in years past, by
diverting local levy dollars that could otherwise be used for instructional programs.
• On a per student basis, the levy subsidy currently being diverted from instructional support to cover
transportation costs ranges on average from $150-$1,200 per student, per year. In a few extreme cases, per student transportation costs are as high as $9,000 per year.
• Aligning transportation costs with the state-funded allowance will enable Seattle Public Schools to direct a significant amount of levy dollars now spent on transportation into the classroom.
• Seattle’s current transportation policy amounts to an internally-imposed, unfunded mandate that varies considerably with what other districts are spending on transportation.
• “Bell times” (i.e., start- and end-times for the school day) are currently driven entirely by
transportation policy. Making smart changes in this area will enable the District to disaggregate
these two items and establish reasonable bell times that correlate with optimal student learning potential at each stage.

Financial Impact Savings of $1.5M in ’06-’07 realized by transferring some high school students to Metro, followed by
savings ranging from $4.7-$5.1M per year over the next four years through more comprehensive changes.

What I find the most interesting piece in this, is the observation that bell times are linked to transportation logistical issues, and not to educational/learning criteria - and this report specifically recommends that bell times be correlated with optimal student LEARNING potential at each age...

8am bell times, with a 6.45am bus pickup doesnt equate with optimal learning potential for any school-level age group....

ParentofThree said...

I could live with 8:30 and 9:30, seems like a good compromise. Of course they need to settle that before enrollment so that parents will consider K8s or not.

anne said...

i would love 8:30/9:30.. ms/hs should really start later. and es kids are the most likely to have a parent at home early in the morning to get them to school a little bit latter.

momster said...

9:30 elementary start would increase cost for my family by $3-400/month, as we will have to pay for before-school care so i can get to work before 10:00 (i now wait until the playground is supervised at 8:35).

But I'll take it if my K-8 6th grader doesn't have to get on the bus at 7:15 to get to school by 8:00. He's the one the researchers talk about who at adolescence is falling asleep later and having a hard time waking up - and it's not just a matter of different parenting or more discipline - it's real.

I'll also take the hit if it means that more secondary schoolers can go to school at 8:30 instead of 7:45. Every 6th grader who participated in our elementary school's recent "Bridge to Middle School" information night talked about comprehensive middle school start time as a problem and spent a lot of their time talking about their strategies for dealing with it. Wouldn't we like them thinking about, talking about, and spending their energy on other things?

I'm still curious about something:

Even with a K-8 compromise start time of 8:15 or 8:30, we will likely drive our 6th grader to school so he can get the extra 30 minutes of sleep.

Because the state transportation formula only reimburses for transportation actually provided, I hope the district has factored in this potential loss of revenue if there are more K-8 families out there like us.

I.e., the district is still likely putting the $50,000 bus out there to get other kids on the route who can't walk, take Metro, or be driven, but because the formula reimburses only for the kids who sign up for transportation and are physically on the bus during the count week, pulling any of them off the bus reduces the state revenue that would cover that mostly fixed cost.

I hope the staff is considering the various behaviors these bell-time changes will "incent" and factoring the financial impact of them into their analysis.

Shannon said...

I don't have such big concerns with the 9.30am start for Elementary school but I feel that ending 3rd Grade at 3.45pm and getting home just before 5pm is too late. My son gets home at 4pm and already it is late to do much before dinner. It feels as if school takes over the whole day and removes our discretionary time for playdates, after school activities and going to the library. All of those things are going to happen on Saturday? Not likely.

TechyMom said...

9:30 would be great, as would getting home at 5. With an activity bus I probably wouldn't need aftercare other than enrichment classes. It would save me money. 8:30 would still put orca out if reach, but would put tops back in, though we'd likely drive. It would move down the list though, because of both convienence and aftercare cost.

For my family a later start time will always be a pro, and an early one will always be a con. I suspect the opposite is true for other families.

Sahila said...

I would like k-5 and k-8s to start at 9.00am or 9.30am, with high schools starting at 10.30am... I'd like elementary/middle schools to finish at 3.00 or 3.30pm and high schools to finish at 4.30pm...

I'd like that because that's what's best for kids' bodies and minds...

And I know that it would make difficulties for some parents with before and after school care and after school activities etc, but I think that we as a society have to stop how we are doing things.

We arent machines, robots and computers and we werent born to work 10+ hours per day for the 'privilege' of putting food in our mouths, clothes on our backs and a roof over our head.

Indigenous communities (stress on the word community) usually spent no more than 4 hours per day on tasks associated with 'survival' issues...

One response/comment to the school bell time article in the PI reminded parents that children are being socialised to work from the time they are being born, and that we need to train kids to be ready for work at 8am...

There's the direct link to the beginnings of universal education - the need and measures adopted to convert an agrarian labour force to an industrial one...

I'm sorry - I want more for my kids than a future as a wage serf...and I sure dont want them indoctrinated into being part of that system so that they never realise there are other ways of being...

Change wont come from the top, so we need to make change happen at the beginning of the socialisation process - a holistic, whole child, child-centred education that is individually tailored to a child's physical, intellectual, emotional, spiritual, social needs, rather than to the needs of a societal economic system...