Seattle Schools Work Session Wrap-up - Transportation

Update: from the Akron Beacon Journal in Ohio, an article about the costs of busing charter school students costs 44% more than regular district students.

In part, the extra cost comes from having to bus charter school students longer distances, sometimes with fewer students on the route, the journalists found. Around the state, school buses traveled an extra 15,600 miles every day in 2012 to accommodate charter school students, which adds up to about an additional $85,000 every day. That extra cost is largely footed by the urban districts in which most charters operate, said the report. 

“Transportation is probably the second or third largest issue for all public schools,” said Ron Adler, president of the Ohio Coalition For Quality Education, a school choice and charter advocate. “It’s a problem not only for charters but it’s a problem for districts. In our view, whatever it is today, it’s going to be worse next year because of the cost of fuel, because of the state funding.”

Now, Ohio is not Washington state but many of the issues like state funding and fuel costs are valid here as well.
End of update.

Bob Westgard, director of Logistics, gave the presentation.

He said there had been 6,000 revisions in Transportation since day 117 of this school year.  He said they had given out 7,000 Orca cards and had to replace 3,000 of them.  (Sadly, no one asked what I was wondering which was, who paid for the second card?  That's a high rate of loss.)

Booking and approving filed trips is almost completely electronic now.  They also have 'increased walking school bus program for Title 1 schools with a UW grant."

He mentioned that there is a Transportation school team that goes out to visit schools.  I hadn't heard of this before - anyone ever met any of this staff at your school?  He said there were six coordinators.

Westgard also stated that 94% of the buses have two cameras and they want to have three per bus.  Director Patu asked why and he said one is to see what the driver is doing, and then one for the front and one for the back of the bus.

President Peaslee stated that in the past there had been a number of empty seats on the buses and that was one of the cost issues.  She then noted the cost of transportation which is about $32M.  She seemed quite surprised at the costs.

There was some FTE benchmarking from other districts in the presentation.  For example, SPS has 32 FTE while Anchorage has 126.  But SPS' FTE is district staff and doesn't include drivers while Anchorage has its own staff of bus drivers.  Some Board members thought this a confusing mix of data. 

Director Blanford asked if people could phone in bus driver issues.  Westgard stated there was a phone number on the website for people to call in.  Director Blanford asked if it was on the side of the bus and Westgard said no, but that was a good point.

Director Patu asked about buying our own buses.  Westgard said they considered that but you need housing for the buses, maintenance and then more HR costs.  Pegi McEvoy said some districts did a blended model where Sped service is contracted out but general transportation is in-house.

A key change may be coming.  President Peaslee asked about the policy for distance to high schools which is currently 2.5 miles.  Westgard said they were working with Metro to get it down to 1 mile (but Metro is not there yet.)  He did say that it WILL be 2 miles next year.   He said it wouldn't hurt for parents to contact Metro about this change.

There could be an issue with charter schools and transportation. Director Peters brought this up and wondered about it.  Westgard said that he understood the RCW that SPS does not have to provide transportation but charters in the district can contract with them.  

However, there does seem to be some confusion.  The Washington Policy Center reported this:

If the House-passed budget formula were used, transportation funding for charter schools would be based on the transportation budget divided by all the students in the district, resulting in a much smaller per-student amount.  Seattle has about 50,000 students, which, divided into $33.2 million, would result in a charter school funding amount of only $664 per student, or about $500 less than what other public schools would receive.

Last week, this disparity was brought to the attention of the top budget writers in the House and Senate, Senator Andy Hill (R-Redmond) and Representative Ross Hunter (D-Bellevue).  On Thursday they made sure charter school students receive fair treatment by adding the following provision:

“Per student allocations for pupil transportation must be calculated using the allocation for the previous year to the school district in which the charter school is located and the number of eligible students in the district, and must be distributed to the charter school based upon the number of eligible students.”

I knew that charters could receive funding for transportation via the charter law but this now specifies an amount.  It's unclear to me whether the state takes on more financial burden for transportation or divides those existing transportation dollars down further.


Anonymous said…
"They also have 'increased walking school bus program for Title 1 schools with a UW grant."

Walking School Buses - So is this how students attending Cedar Park (and perhaps Olympic Hills students attending Cedar Park in interim) will be expected to cross Lake City Way and NE 125th Street (where there are long stretches without crosswalks)?

The Cedar Park Walk Zone is absolutely crazy!

According to the map, kids living west of Lake City Way and south of 125th will not receive yellow bus transportation. As far as I know, students have never been expected to cross a state highway on foot to get to their assigned school. Does anyone know if this is the norm elsewhere in the city? If so, how many crossing guards are there at each intersection? I hope at least 2 or 3!

Cedar Park Walk Zone Map:

- North-end Mom
Po3 said…
"He said it wouldn't hurt for parents to contact Metro about this change."

How are parents supposed to know that they should be contacting Metro if they don't read this blog or watch/attend school board meetings?

As far as charter schools go - are there any coming online within the SPS boundary for 2014/15 school year?
Po3, yes, First Place Charter Academy is coming online in fall 2014.
Po3 said…
Interesting. Did a google search and found nothing on First Place Academy opening in Seattle in the fall. You would expect a website by now giving parents some info to enroll for Sept 2014.

Sorry off topic...but I do wonder.
First Place has existed as a school serving at-risk/homeless kids for about 20 years. Here's their website:

As I said previously, they are the exception for a great charter school. That they (hopefully) will be able to serve more students is a good thing.
Anonymous said…
Is Metro going to be able to continue offering bus service to high schools if this new tax doesn't pass? If the tax doesn't pass, they have said they will have to cut a lot of bus service. Won't this affect high schools? There is an article in the paper about how much it will affect UW students.

Eric B said…
The first replacement Orca card is free, the second is $15 or so. I don't know what the first replacement costs SPS--they may have a deal with Metro on that.

On the bus utilization front, we have one long bus with three riders at our elementary. We do have a small attendance area that is mostly walkable, so it's not too surprising that there's not many bus riders, but still seems like a waste.
HP, great question that never came up at the Work Session. I'll have to ask.
Anonymous said…
" Eric B said...
The first replacement Orca card is free, the second is $15 or so..."
Actually, transportation asks the schools to charge students $5.50 first Orca card replacement, and the second $25. I know of a few students that have already paid $25 for their second replacement...

Anonymous said…
Don't know what smoke the Transportation director waved in the direction of the board but from personal experience and parent stories, transportation seems as bad as ever.

No data supplied on where/how money is saved on the 3 tier system. Never once has there been a real analysis made public.

Stupid 3 tier system means buses are late to school every single day. Every. Single. Day. That means kids are missing 1st period instructional time and are getting LESS education than their peers thanks to the bus schedule.

In tandem with the late arrivals, buses are perpetually late for morning field trips. So money is paid to schedule buses but they then ruin field trips with missed learning opportunities.

No one answers calls or gets back in timely manner to school personnel for gosh sakes. If you are a parent? Forget it.

It is simply a mess. As always.

Ragweed said…
Two things to think about with nearly empty busses -

- Many busses hit more than one school, so they may be picking up 3 kids at one school and 20 at the next (though that may only work with option schools).

- The major cost of the bus is probably the driver, so a long bus with 5 kids is pretty much the same as a van with 5 kids.
Anonymous said…
The "coordinators" he mentioned are called Intervention Specialists - they each are assigned to a region of the city and deal with day to day problems like missing kids, bus stops in poor locations, driver/student interaction issues (behavioral etc.), drivers who are not performing up to par, special transports (like a kid missing bus or being overly disruptive etc).

Unless a parent has had some kind of issue that required intervention, I doubt they'd have ever met one of these 6 people.

Anonymous said…
Actually, come to think of it, Mr. Westgard might have been referring to the routing coordinators - its their job to set up pickup/dropoff routing, re-route when there is weather/traffic/construction issues etc.


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