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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Transportation Meeting Report

I went to the Transportation meeting tonight at Aki Kurose. There were a grand total of six members of the public there, not counting a reporter.

Cordell Carter got it off to a poor start in his introductory remarks by saying that the District's budgeting priorities were to "protect the classroom against all else". It was an unnecessary and unconvincing lie. Mr. Carter did nothing useful except introduce Tom Bishop.

Mr. Bishop briefly sketched out the proposed transportation plan and then opened the floor to questions. It was through the questions - I submitted about six of them - that the story came out.

The story, put into a coherent order, goes like this:

Faced with the mind-numbing revenue reductions caused by the ailing economy, the state has drastically cut funding for public K-12 education in every possible way, including the reimbursement for student transportation. The State has adopted - just since January - a new formula for reimbursing Districts for school bus expenses. The old state formula used to pay for each bus, but the new formula pays for each student. Under the new system, Districts maximize their reimbursement by making short trips with very full buses. This new formula also makes it very expensive to make long trips or to run buses half-empty. It makes it crazy expensive to make a long trip with a half-empty bus.

This was a complete change in the way that the state paid for student transportation and the Transportation Department had only a couple weeks from the adoption of the new formula by the state to due date for the Transportation Service Standards. They developed this plan without any community involvement; there was no time. Mr. Bishop, however, is actively seeking community input on how the plan can be improved.

The new Transportation Plan will go into effect with the 2013-2014 school year. There will be a Transitional Plan used in 2011-2012 and 2012-2013.

Under the new plan, and during the time of the transitional plan, service to middle and high schools will be just as it is now. Most students living outside the walk zone for their assigned school will be issued an ORCA card. Yellow bus transportation will be provided only as needed: for special needs students and in those locations where the METRO service is inadequate.

Under the new plan, and during the time of the transitional plan, service to Option schools will be just as it is now. There are some students who are getting grandfathered bus service but that will end in two years.

Under the new plan the District will identify a Transporation Zone around each attendance area elementary and K-8 school. This Transporation Zone will be generally be limited by a radius of 1.25 miles from the school. The Transportation Zone will extend beyond that range, as necessary, to include all of the school's attendance area and it will be reduced, as necessary, to remain within the school's middle school service area. Yellow bus transportation will be provided to students living within the school's Transportation Zone but outside the school's walk zone. In no case will any school's Transportation Zone include the entire middle school service area. A couple of the schools in the McClure service area will come closest.

Students with special needs and participating in special programs will continue to get transportation to the school from outside the Transportation Zone. Routes that extend beyond the Transportation Zone will have fewer stops placed further apart. They will be "community stops". The district intends to use schools as these community stops and there will be adult supervision at the schools used as community stops. No student, however, will be assigned to a stop further than a half mile from the student's home, the maximum distance the District thinks a student should walk to a bus stop.

Students living just beyond the Transportation Zone will be assigned to a stop within the Transportation Zone if that stop is within a half mile of the student's home. That extends the practical range of the Transportation Zones to 1.75 miles from the school. In addition, due to the layout of streets, there may be stops outside the zone as the bus travels in an arc around the school.

Some special accomodations will be made for students who were assigned to a school that was in their cluster under the old assignment plan but is not in their middle school service area under their new assignment plan. These accomodations typically involve sharing buses with other schools. Van Asselt students living in the Aki Kurose service area, for example, will ride a bus with students going to Wing Luke. After the bus stops at Wing Luke in the morning it will continue to Van Asselt. Similar accomodations will be made for Gatewood students who will ride on a bus that stops first at West Seattle Elementary, Muir students who will ride a bus that stops first at Hawthorne, and Laurelhurst students who will ride a bus that stops first at Sand Point.

Come 2013, when this new plan is fully implemented, other students living beyond the Transportation Zone for their school will not be provided with yellow bus transportation to school. They may, however, gain access to a bus provided for special program students on a space available basis.

During the coming two years, the transitional period, the district will provide yellow bus transporation to schools from a wider area beyond the Transportation Zone. This service will use community stops. While there will be a wider area served, it may not include the entire Service Area. The routes through these areas will use community stops, primarily other schools.

This reduction in yellow bus service will save the District a net (after reimbursement from the State) $4 million. These savings will start in 2011 and will be greater in 2013.

The Transportation Department has started posting maps with the walk zones, Transportation Zones, and Transitional Transportation Zones for each school. They probably won't finish that work before the end of next week.

Let's make no mistake about it. There are students who now have yellow bus transporation to school and will lose it. The district does not yet know how many. Early estimates included students enrolled in special programs who will continue to get transportation. Better estimates are expected by the end of next week. That is the primary downside to this proposal.

For a lot of families, access to a school requires district-provided transportation. Without transportation they do not effectively have access. The District claims to place a value on equitable access to quality programs and schools. That principle is compromised if transporation is denied.

That said, Mr. Bishop strikes me as sincerely making every effort to find a way to serve as many students as he can within the budgetary contraints. Let him know if you've got a hard case and he may be able to work a solution for you. I believe he will try his best.

There are also a lot of things to like about this proposal. Students living outside the Transportation Zone for their assigned school may be able to catch a bus there from their neighborhood school. They would be able to walk to their neighborhood school with their neighbors, have adult supervision while they wait for the bus, and, upon their return home, since they are dropped at that school, they could use the after-school care at their neighborhood school. That could all be pleasant and convenient.

Crossing guard hours will be increased in readiness for the greater number of students walking to their neighborhood schools - whether they are going to class or to their bus stop.

Since the bus routes will be shorter distances, they will take less time. In fact, they will take so much less time that drivers can complete up to three routes in the morning and afternoon. This reduces the number of drivers and buses needed. Some drivers will be laid off. The drivers who continue, however, will get six to eight hours of daily work instead of the four or five they are working now.

Under the new plan the drivers will so all of their routes in a smaller area so it is more likely that drivers will drive both the morning and afternoon legs of the same routes. In addition, the shorter routes are expected to result in fewer discipline issues on the buses.

A few questions were asked that Mr. Bishop couldn't answer directly. He thought they were worthwhile, however, and I think he'll put the information on the web.

Mr. Carter stepped in at 8:10 to call the meeting to a close. The meeting was scheduled to run until 8:30, so I don't know why Mr. Carter jumped the gun on ending it. He got called on it, and he allowed one more question.

23 comments:

wsnorth said...

@"It makes it crazy expensive to make a long trip with a half-empty bus."

Um, hello. This was already crazy expensive. Maybe this is just "daylighting" the true cost.

I am an admitted neighborhood, walk to school guy here in Seattle, but I went to a lousy rural school when I was a kid, where we had nothing, nada, no special anything.

Why should the state send this money to Seattle to bus kids clear across town? What does the state do do for a small district where there is no "across town"?

It seems to me the state should fund "basic" education, but the transportation issues are a local problem.

mirmac1 said...

Information on the NEW Student Transportation Funding System

Charlie Mas said...

Ah, yes, wsnorth, you are correct.

Funny how the state policy makers don't think about how their decisions will shape local practices.

This change in the state transportation reimbursement formula will fall very heavily on rural districts which can have long travel distances for few students.

mirmac1 said...

WTH does this mean?

RCW 28A.160.191
Student transportation allocation — Adequacy for certain districts — Adjustment. (Effective September 1, 2011.)


The superintendent of public instruction shall ensure that the allocation formula results in adequate appropriation for low enrollment districts, nonhigh districts, districts involved in cooperative transportation agreements, and cooperative special transportation services operated by educational service districts. If necessary, the superintendent shall develop a separate process to adjust the allocation of the districts.

Are we one of these?

zb said...

"WTH does this mean?"

My guess is that the text will allow funneling of money to rural districts to circumvent the problem that in rural areas you have to have small groups of students travel long distances.

But who knows. It's written in legislation gibberish.

mirmac1 said...

Old
WAC 392-141-170
Factors used to determine allocation.
The method of determining the transportation operation allocation for each district shall be based on the following factors:

(1) The number of eligible students transported as defined in WAC 392-141-115;

(2) The radius mile distances from route stops to the destination schools, transfer route stops, learning centers, or agencies;

(3) A basic or special transportation distance weighting factor per radius mile interval
(4) The basic average load which is calculated by dividing the total number of basic and transit tripper students by the total number of prorated basic buses;

(5) A minimum load factor for districts with a basic average load of less than seventy-four students transported per bus for all home to school routes, except routes designed exclusively for handicapped or kindergarten students. This factor is calculated by dividing the whole number seventy-four by the basic average load and subtracting the whole number one;

(6) The special education average load is derived by dividing the total number of home to school special education students by the total number of special education prorated buses;

(7) The number of kindergarten through fifth grade students enrolled during the five consecutive day count and living one radius mile or less from their destination school; and

(8) A special education load factor is based on the special education average load. To determine the special education load factor

New
WAC 392-141-360 Operation allocation computation. (1) The operation allocation shall be calculated using the following factors:
(a) The combined student count of basic program students;
11/30/10 11:28 AM [ 13 ] OTS-3732.1
(b) The combined student count of special program students;
(c) The district's prorated average distance;
(d) The district's total land area;
(e) The district's total number of roadway miles;
(f) The district's number of destinations served by home to school routes;
(g) The district's number of kindergarten routes operated during ten consecutive school days that include the count period and are all within the report period; and
(h) If the school district is a nonhigh district, the answer to the following question: Does the district provide transportation service for the high school students residing in the district?
For each district, an expected allocation is determined using the coefficients resulting from a regression analysis of (a) through (h) of this subsection, evaluated statewide against the prior school year's total to and from transportation expenditures and including the local characteristics factor.
(2) The adjusted allocation is the result of modifying the expected allocation by adding any district car mileage reimbursement, adding any adjustment resulting from the alternate funding systems identified in WAC 392-141-380, and making any adjustment resulting from an alternate school year calendar approved by the state board of education under the provisions of RCW 28A.305.141.
(3) Each district's actual allocation for student transportation operations is the lesser of the prior school year's total allowable student transportation expenditures or the adjusted
(4) The funding assumption for the transportation operation allocation is that kindergarten through twelfth grade (K-12) school transportation services are provided by the district five days per week, to and from school, before and after the regular school day and operating one hundred eighty days per school year. K-12 service being provided on any other basis is subject to corresponding proration of the operation allocation.

Maureen said...

I would like to see the numbers for any transportation changes paired with (estimates at least) of the corresponding increase in cost of AYP busing and tutoring.

If cutting transportation just means that more kids get assigned to schools where they qualify to be bused right out again or for free tutoring, it's not clear that SPS is saving anything at all.

(I'll admit that I'm not clear on whether SPS has to keep paying for busing and tutoring for everyone or if there is a maximum amount that they have to cover. If that is true, and they are already at the ceiling, then it won't cost more, but academic outcomes will be worse. Meg may know.)

Syd said...

I think this is an unfair characterization - that more money is spent on Seattle students than students in other parts of the state. In fact, more money is spent per student on rural students than on children in our district. A lot more.

Anonymous said...

@Syd,
Thank you for that link... I will need it for my next holiday with the rural in-laws who want to lower taxes even further.
PAL

Anonymous said...

I am calling BS on the District's claim that they only had a few weeks to pull it together. If you were to pour through the comments on Harium's blog, you may find the reference. It was over a year ago that the State announced that there would be changes.

Comments on the draft WAC language were taken at a hearing on Dec. 8, meaning the changes were known before then. They knew this was coming.

There were several open houses last night - at Roosevelt and Hamilton - which may be one of the reasons attendance was low. The District also hadn't posted maps or bell times yet, so it's difficult ot provide feedback.

LeFemmeMonkita said...

Question, Melissa: So, does this mean that elementary school children living within the walk route (which has yet to be determined) will no longer receive yellow bus transportation? Thanks!

Charlie Mas said...

LeFemmeMonkita,

The District does not generally provide transportation for children who live within the safe walk zone for their assigned school. Exceptions are made for the special education students who cannot be expected to walk to school.

It appears that the District will not be changing the school walk zones. They will remain where they are right now.

However, I believe that students who live near the outside edge of the walk zone may have a shorter walk to a bus stup in the transporation zone than to the school. In those cases, I believe that the students can ride the bus - at least on a space available basis.

SeattleSped said...

Never take what the District says at face value. Look at what they did with the special education "peer review". They ignored the results and used it as an excuse to slash spending and staffing.

dj said...

Well, at least there will be bus transportation within the assignment area, which, a few days ago, we were all pretty concerned there might not be. I do wonder what the plan is, however, to deal with kids who are attending a school that they will no longer have transportation to who cannot transfer into their assignment-area school even if they want to. Anyone know?

Anonymous said...

My child is in a program (therefore school) that draws from around the city. We live in West Seattle, the school/program is in the Central district.

I'm confused by the proposed transportation - will we continue to receive transportation as is (bus stops are currently on arterials, based on residence), or because West Seattle is "outside of the transporation zone" of this Central District school, will they transition to "community stops"?

Thanks.
Georgia

Maureen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Charlie Mas said...

dj asked: "I do wonder what the plan is, however, to deal with kids who are attending a school that they will no longer have transportation to who cannot transfer into their assignment-area school even if they want to. Anyone know?"

This question arose. In particular, I asked about students living in the Bryant area who got mandatory assignments to John Rogers. I suggested that, since John Rogers is near Jane Addams K-8, an option school with transportation provided from throughout the service area, Bryant-area Rogers students could ride the Jane Addams bus and then the bus could continue on to John Rogers for them. The idea had promise, but isn't perfect because Jane Addams is one of the three Tier 1 K-8's and it would get the Rogers students to school far too early.

I believe that Mr. Bishop wants, very sincerely, to find a way to serve all of these students. The solutions available may not be elegant, but they can be effective.

I strongly suggest that people contact him to make him aware of their specific challenges and, when possible, suggest a solution.

For example, a student could walk to Bryant, use it as a community stop and catch a ride to Tier 2 elementary school further north. Use THAT as a community stop and catch a ride to Rogers. Not elegant, not short, but it would work.

Charlie Mas said...

Georgia, the new Transportation Plan doesn't change anything for option schools or special programs. Students in these programs will continue to get transportation just as they would under the previous plan.

The previous plan did allow for a limited period of grandfathered service to option schools for students from outside the service area. That grandfathering will not be extended.

I could give a more specific answer if I knew exactly which school and program you meant. If it is Special Education or APP, the transportation will continue.

joanna said...

Someone who reads and posts here posted an untrue statement regarding the transportation plan on CD News. I am attempting to understand why. Maureen stated:"Two things about transportation:
(1) The 1.25 mile limit proposed in the new Transportation Service Standards does not impact Option Schools. Option Schools will retain transportation from the entire Middle School Attendance area so will not be 'profoundly effected.' TOPS parents are concerned about kids assigned to TOPS under the old assignment plan who live outside the WMS area. Those kids will be cut off from busing to TOPS in '12-'13 and won't have a guaranteed seat at any school they can get to because they won't be in 'entry grades.' Many of the south end kids may end up bused back north under No Child Left Behind rules, so will cost the District more than if they are allowed to finish 5th grade at TOPS.
(2) Transportation Zones for attendance area schools will include anyone who lives outside of the walk zone and is assigned to that school as their neighborhood school. So even if Zone 4 is greater than 1.25 miles away from Stevens, kids in that area will get a bus to Stevens as long as it is their attendance area school.

Charlie Mas posted a very clear summary of the proposed changes on Jan. 27th at: saveseattleschools.blogspot.com )
Comment by maureen "

joanna said...

While Maureen's post maybe wasn't untrue. This is the response that I received from Tom Bishop last night, Sunday. And, he has not emailed any new information. Here a 1.75 mile distance seems to be his understanding of an extra consideration not, "attendance area."
His email on January 30, 2011:

"The transportation zones are proposed to begin in three years. At that
time the 1.25 mile radius is set up as a transportation framework that can
potentially accommodate students within a 1.75 mile radius and that covers
a very large area in the Washington service area. Additional
transportation will continue on for schools that provide ELL and Spectrum
and in those cases additional students may take advantage of that
transportation.
Tom. Bishop"

joanna said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
joanna said...

Thank you for all the information. http://www.seattleschools.org/area/transportation/zones/main
I don't want to go to all the meetings. If the plan is to include the entire attendance area, why does the District continue to list 1.25 miles as a criteria? Does this mean students not living in the attendance area but within that radius may be eligible for transportation? I know somewhere they stated as some type of framework. What does this imply. Framework is not policy. Why not just do an average number of miles or something for the budget issues?

joanna said...

Charlie and Maureen, thank you for your information. I don't expect closure soon on exactly what the intention of the materials on the new transportation policy is. So that I can move on and stay away from the subject for a few days, I left the following comment for transportation and Tom Bishop:
If on the transportation plan you intend to serve all students in the attendance area other than those who live in the walk zone, please eliminate the statement from your policy that seems to restrict it to those who live within 1.25 miles of the school. If the intention is to imply something different then say so. These two statements conflict. Be clear about your policy.

If the point is to call out the families who live more than 1.25 miles from the attendance area schools as expensive and a drag on the system, then please do an analysis on how much reopening TT Minor with a community supported program could save the District on transportation.
Thank you.
Joanna