By Tracy Records
West Seattle Blog Editor
A decade after a bitter battle for Seattle Public Schools start times, changes are back on the table.
It was the main — but not the only — issue discussed when three school board members met online with members of the West Seattle school community Saturday afternoon. The meeting was organized and facilitated by Manuela Slyea West Seattle resident who is co-vice president of the Seattle Council (Citywide) PTSA.
The problem is once again the school buses. Ten years ago, the district sought to adopt a three-tier startup plan so it could save money on transportation costs. there were changes in 2015 too. This time, says the neighborhood, the problem is a “nationwide shortage of drivers”. If it operated on a three-tier schedule instead of a two-tier schedule, more routes could be handled by fewer drivers. So the proposal – which was just made public late last week, just in time for the board to get its first look at Thursday Operations Committee meeting – is for some schools to start as early as 7:30 a.m. and some to start as late as 9:30 a.m., while others would start at 8:30 a.m. Here is what is offered for schools in our area:
Level 1, departure at 7:30 a.m. (currently all 7:55 a.m. except Concord, 8:55 a.m.)
Arbor Heights Elementary School
Concord International Elementary
Fairmount Park Elementary School
Gatewood Elementary School
Genesee Hill Elementary School
Highland Park Primary School
West Seattle Elementary School
Level 2, departure at 8:30 a.m.
Chief Sealth International High School (currently 8:55)
Lafayette Elementary (currently 7:55)
Madison Middle School (currently 8:55)
Roxhill Elementary (currently 7:55)
Sanislo Elementary (currently 7:55)
West Seattle High School (currently 8:45 a.m.)
Level 3, departure at 9:30 a.m.
Alki Elementary (currently 7:55)
Denny International Middle School (currently 7:55)
Louisa Boren STEM K-8 (currently 8:55)
Pathfinder K-8 (currently 8:55)
The complete list of the district is here. Everything is on a fast track, with a final vote scheduled for May 18, attendees at the Saturday meeting heard from school board members Leslie Harris (which represents our region), Lisa Rivera Smithand Viviane Song Maritz.
Harris described the bell hours issue as ‘on fire, to say the least’, adding that she is ‘beyond disappointed’ that district staff ‘won’t release official information until Thursday’ . The Operations Committee meeting “was difficult” – a lot of information, a lot of “preconceived ideas about what we are going to do” – “it’s a question of money, the fact that we don’t have enough of drivers, competing with Amazon and UPS and Metro and “others for drivers. But a decision needs to be made soon on whether to continue with district bus provider First Student, and go back to 3 tiers or stay with 2 is She also lamented that no one in the district’s transportation department – whose chief recently left – remembers how people fought for secondary schools to start later because teenagers have need more sleep.
There is apparently also a parallel philosophical controversy over whether decisions such as start times/buses should be up to the school board, Rivera Smith noted. Overall, she said, this meeting got “really crazy” and lasted 2 hours. She felt it would be “irresponsible…to just throw this around”. Committee members therefore sent it to the full board for “review” – which, she pointed out, did not mean the committee had approved the proposal. And, she said, there’s a chance that will change before it’s officially presented at the May 4 board meeting, especially since it’s only now going to the families for feedback.
Song Maritz observed, “Who makes the decision is not that important to me… what is important is data-driven decision-making,” and finding all possible solutions to the driver shortage of bus.
A participant wondered what would happen to after-school programs for a third-grade student. Answer: Nobody knows, because this information is so recent. Harris said district staff said Thursday that if your school choice no longer works for you due to the schedule change, they will put in place a way to allow you to make a change. Re: Athletics “it’s going to take a lot of negotiation” for high school students and Seattle parks and it’s happening, but they need to figure out how it might conflict with adult league rentals . Yet another question: is there room for later childcare programs for third-grade schools? Answer: “Many layers…to work with.”
Question from a participant: Did SPS do a survey before proposing to change class times? Rivera Smith said yes, there was an investigation into the leaders of the building. “I feel like crying when I think of a child standing on a street corner at 6:15 a.m. waiting for a bus,” which could happen with the earliest departure time. She is not against the three-tier concept, but she is concerned about the health of the students.
The district will meet with Metro to see how it might help, but “the lack of data and the lack of detail couldn’t be more frustrating,” Harris said. She also said it shouldn’t have come up at the eleventh hour because there’s been a line item proposed in the budget since September about “going 3 tiers to save $5 million” but it took everything this time to discuss it.
Speaking of budgeting, while the meeting touched on other issues, building-level budgets and staff cuts are another issue on the list. “The budget is non-transparent and non-accountable,” Harris said. The budget is distributed to schools via weighted staffing standards. She explained the process. Song Maritz agrees that the process is not meeting the needs. Another participant mentioned the “new governance model” of the council and, who will hold the district accountable if not the council?
Other issues were on a list of concerns distributed prior to the meeting. Also among them: Availability of Narcan in schools, with overdoses on the rise. (corrected) community advocate Shawna Murphy stressed the need for supply and training, saying most nurses have a “two-pack” on campus, but that’s not enough – one person may need both doses. Schools need more Narcan, need more trained people beyond nurses, need to make sure more know it’s available…. only nurses and security officers need to know how to use it. The need isn’t just for students – it could be needed for a parent or staff member. The supplies expire in May, so they must get more – “it’s not expensive”. Harris said the King County Medical Examiner wants to speak with the district about harm reduction.
Another topic, special education – inclusion vs segregation – how is the district moving towards more inclusive practices? Harris says she and her colleagues believe this is a high priority issue in collective bargaining. But overall, she thinks “services for students with special needs” are “in better shape than they have been in a long time”.
There was also a brief discussion of how students of color are disproportionately affected by disciplinary actions/policies. Harris noted that this is not being tracked adequately by the district and should be done by principals of schools — to whom principals report.
With so much to discuss, Slye asked Harris to commit to a regular meeting like this, and she did. She said she hoped the libraries would reopen for in-person community meetings like the ones she used to have, but in the meantime an online meeting is now scheduled for 3 p.m. on June 18.
HOW TO COMMENT ON A CALENDAR ISSUE: The district has set up a “Let’s talk about it” form for comments and questions – find it here. Harris also suggested emailing [email protected], [email protected]and district officials Fred Podesta and Ashley Davies.