Thursday, May 17, 2012

Letter on Transportation from the Superintendent

Dear Seattle Public Schools families,

I am writing to provide you with an update on changes to transportation for the 2012-13 school year, and also to apologize for the concern and confusion transportation issues have caused in the past couple of weeks.

After several years of budget shortfalls, we have been working hard to develop a balanced budget for the 2012-13 school year, with a goal of keeping budget cuts away from the classroom. As part of this effort, the School Board recently requested an analysis of options that could generate more savings from transportation. We responded to this request with an option that would have saved approximately $1 million. In response to this option, we heard from many families who were concerned about the potential impacts and the lack of time to provide community engagement.

We know that transportation changes, which in turn affect when school starts each day, may be unpopular. We also know that we did not have enough time to thoughtfully engage our families and staff on these potential decisions. As a result, based on the feedback we received, we provided the School Board with a scaled back option that lessens the impacts to school start times, but does not achieve the savings originally sought. Last night the School Board voted to move forward with this option, which keeps the current 2011-12 transportation plan in place and returns to the 2010 yellow bus ride time target to 45 minutes. This plan has minimal impact on current bell times, except 4-6 elementary schools will have a later start time of no more than 30 minutes from the current bell time. Bell times for the 2012-13 school year will be finalized by the end of this month. This new option is expected to save the District between $250,000 and $500,000.

In order to more thoroughly analyze future transportation options and provide for increased community input, the District has convened a task force composed of state and local technical transportation experts. This transportation task force will present recommendations for the new Superintendent to review in September, prior to the Open Enrollment period, for consideration of implementation in 2012-13.
The District also heard from families that we should consider starting elementary schools earlier and high schools later. This has major ramifications for high school students, including after-school jobs and athletics, as well as before- and after-school child care for elementary school families. This will take considerable time to thoroughly study.

We know that transportation to and from school is important to our families and can have a tremendous impact on your daily lives. As we seek to reduce our transportation budget in the future we will continue to consider ways to better communicate with families and minimize impacts. If you have a suggestion, please let us know at transdept@seattleschools.org.



Susan Enfield, Ed.D.
Interim Superintendent
Seattle Public Schools


Steve said...

I really wonder which 4-6 elementary schools are going to start even later, and when they (we?) will be told.

Anonymous said...

I fear that they will push the savings on the backs of the Tier 3 elementary schools, starting them at on/after 10am, an hour later than all the rest. Unbelievable.

Hope I'm Wrong

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Charlie Mas said...

This is the frame that the District is trying to put on this. They're trying to say that, if you stand over here, look at it from this angle, and squint your eyes, this turd doesn't look that bad.

Yes the budget is tight. Yes there are gaps. I don't know if I would characterize the direction from the Board as requesting "an analysis of options that could generate more savings from transportation".

I say that because they didn't get an analysis. They got a Board Action Report. I think this is critical. The direction from the Board also mentioned community engagement, but none of that was included in the response from the staff.

So the board asks for an analysis and for community engagement and instead they get a Board Action Report with no community engagement. The Board, however, isn't the least bit disappointed and puts the motion on the agenda for a board meeting just six days later.

Then the people see it.

She says that many families were "concerned". I didn't hear about those families. I heard from the families who were angry. She writes that "transportation changes, which in turn affect when school starts each day, may be unpopular". Really? Unpopular? Like Osama bin Laden was unpopular? I don't think this is the word she wants.

Good news, everyone. The School Board decided that they would just change the plan a little instead of changing it a lot, but your kvetching means that we won't be able to save as much money. Gosh, think of all they could do if we didn't nag them so much.

Don't worry. The District will do it right next time. They have put together a task force who will meet in secret and without any communication with the public. Dr. Enfield is sure that they will come up with an answer that she won't be blamed for because she won't be here.

Charlie Mas said...

You will notice that they accept no responsibility for horribly botching this on the first try.

Anonymous said...

Some schools starting up to 30 min later? Ack. I hope it's not any of the third tier schools that already start uber late. Somehow, I'm bracing for the worst.

3rd tier parent

dj said...

Funny. You could achieve their projected savings pretty easily (when you take benefits into account) by firing a couple of the transportation department staffers who botched this in the first place.

I have upped the rhetoric in the emails I am sending to the district this time. Gah.

mirmac1 said...

Here is the approved plan:

5/15/12 Transpo changes

Anonymous said...

Didn't "have" enough time to engage families, or didn't
ALLOW enough time? That was my response to the letter. We are a district constantly in crisis mode, forced to make "gun to the head" decisions.

And they never admit responsibility.

Bugged, constantly

Anonymous said...

Thanks, mirmac1. The proposal indicates that 4-6 Tier 2 schools will be moving to Tier 3, which would account for the 30 min later reference.

3rd tier parent

Anonymous said...

When I was growing up in NY, each district came up with a budget and took it to the voters each year. If the voters approved, tax rates were set accordingly. If it failed, the district could take a second shot. If no budget passed, then the district operated under austerity, which meant no field trips, pay as you go athletics, and a whole list of state mandated cutbacks. It was a much better process b/c (1) students' needs drove the budget, not arbitrary revenue caps and (2) the budget choices were subject to immediate public accountability.


Anonymous said...

The District also heard from families that we should consider starting elementary schools earlier and high schools later. This has major ramifications for high school students, including after-school jobs and athletics, as well as before- and after-school child care for elementary school families. This will take considerable time to thoroughly study.

Read the above as: Your elementary age kids will be in college by the time we finish stuyding this.


SP said...

Miramac- thanks (no links or even mention of this presentation online for yesterday's meetings!).

Yes, this confirms what Bob W. also said- that 6-10 Tier 2 elementary schools would be moved to Tier 3, but that those schools had not been identified (or at least officially), and that approval of those school's changes would be later in a separate Board Action (so stay tuned).

In the Sup's letter, interesting to note community engagement is referred to, but how will it be part of the "technical transportation experts" task force's recommendations when there are no community members on the task force? I hope the task force will open this up & listen to the community this time around!

Anonymous said...

Welcome to Tier 3, you blissfully unaware, unlucky 4-6 current Tier 2 schools. It sucks.

Moving in the Wrong Direction

Bus Savvy said...

It would be neat if the district reversed the routes. Meaning, in the AM, the first stop is on the bus for 45 minutes. In the afternoon, the last morning stop is on the bus for 45 minutes. Then, the same kids aren't enduring the long rides.

Bus Savvy

Eric B said...

Like I said to some other parents, this is pretty watered down. However, when was the last time you remember the Superintendent sending out a letter to families with even the faintest recognition that community activism changed the course that the District took?

Yeah, I can't remember either. So in summary, it sucks, but it could have been a lot worse and we (as in the activist community) turned this around. How's that for a glass half full?

Anonymous said...

So wait -- slide 9 (page 5) of the link that mirmac1 posted says that tier 3 schools start between 8:55 and 9:15am. My son's tier 3 school starts at 9:25 this year -- are they trying to sneak other time changes in or are they just clueless about when schools actually start?

North End Dad

Anonymous said...

North End Dad- those are bus arrival times, not start times. My kids are tier 3 and the bus usually arrives about 9:05, but school starts at 9:25.


MS parent said...

Its hard to read this info - are they moving the start (AM bell) time for MS/HS to 7:45 from the current 7:50AM? The final outcome is still a bit vague, isnt it?

dan dempsey said...

The District will be making every school a quality school under the NSAP by directing the dollar savings from transportation to help historically under-performing schools....... Oh YEAH who takes responsibility for anything.

Meanwhile the WA Supreme Court finds that current funding of schools violates the rights of students but is doing essentially nothing until 2018..... What a State... just keep on violating students rights for six more years 'cause its OK with the Supremes.

Sahila said...

Dear Seattle School District families (students and parents) and school staff...

We're really sorry we suck at doing anything right in this district...

That's because we think we know it all, we dont want your input cos we answer to other, deeper pockets and we really never, ever stop to think of the impact of what we decide on your children...

Oh, and here's a watered down version of our latest F**k-Up and you better be grateful we did any tweaking at all...

Sincerely (not)

Susan Enfield, Peter DeBell, Harium Martin Morris, Sherry Carr....

Anonymous said...

What does it mean that the task force will present ideas for consideration of implementation in 2012-13? Are they saying they may make changes mid-next year? After the past 2 weeks are they crazy?


Eric B said...

District Watcher - As I understand it, ideas will be presented in the 2012-13 year for implementation in 2013-14. I haven't heard anyone putting forward the idea of moving bell times in the middle of the year.

Anonymous said...

@ Eric B.
The release doesn't say anything about the recommendations being bell times. It seems to leave options for budget cutting very open.

That combined with the 2012-13 date have me concerned. Could transportation get scaled back in the middle of next year if the budget situation bleakens? The letter does NOT rule it out and after the upheaval of the last 2 weeks, there is reason to be very concerned.


Sahila said...

oops - MICHAEL DeBell.... guess I was conflating him with the recently departed Peter Maier.... oh well, same diff!

Anonymous said...

I have a comment about transportation. A few yrs back I spoke to a principal investigator doing a research study on SPS school bus air quality and her findings showed that the air on the buses was not clean and not good for kids. So, I ask? Why can't SPS provide kids with decent air on school buses? Forget route details..snoring... let's talk about preserving kids' health with clean air buses. Kids are small and vulnerable to toxins. This could be a very cost effective endeavor for our society. Now that is interesting.