The Seattle School Board last night unanimously approved cuts (.pdf) to the Seattle school district's transportation services which is estimated to bring in $4 million in savings in the next school year. Additionally, the cuts might lead to a potential $4 million increase in state funding for the district due to a change in the state's funding formula that rewards efficiency in transportation.
This could mean a potential net increase of $8 million for the district, said Seattle Public Schools Transportation Manager Tom Bishop, adding that the cuts would also reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 15 percent. The cuts will take 80 school buses off the street, which Bishop said would save about 45 teacher positions. Bishop said that no school district employees would be laid off due to the cuts because the school bus drivers were handled by outside contractors. SPS is currently facing a $35 million budget deficit and is proposing to layoff employees, implement furloughs, and eliminate counselors to plug the gap.
The cuts will affect 55 elementary and three K-8 schools. Approximately 8 percent (3.600) students will move from a regular corner stop to a community bus stop (they will have to walk half a mile to one mile to get there, but adult crossing guard hours will be extended to ensure safety). About 600 students will not be eligible for any kind of transportation, but will have guaranteed assignment to their attendance area school if requested. Approximately 120 students who had to transfer to other schools because of school closures will have transportation "grandfathered in" until they leave their current school, Bishop said. "We wanted to make sure that we do not further impact students already impacted by school closures," he said.
Some schools might have to change their bell times due to shifts in bus arrival and departure time.This will be handled by the district superintendent and school principals according to collective bargaining agreements. A handful of people—including a school bus driver—showed up to protest the cuts, but also present was a parent from TOPS Seward K-8 in Eastlake, who was there to thank Bishop for helping the school find an alternative to its bus service reductions.
The school board voted last year to discontinue bus service for TOPS students who lived outside the Washington Middle School transportation zone after 2011-2012. When parents realized that this would mean loss of busing for 50 percent of kids who attended TOPS, they asked the district to consider implementing a cheaper community stop pilot program. "Most of our vulnerable students live in the southeast part of the district and may not have access to alternative transportation and will need to transfer schools, thus disrupting their education and denying them access to one of the most successful schools in the city," TOPS parent Sheila Anderson wrote in a letter to the board.
At first their proposal didn't get much attention from the district, but parents kept badgering them with letters and public testimony, until finally last week, the district agreed to try out community stops for a couple of years, which means that instead of getting a door-to-door shuttle service, parents will have to walk their kids to a central hub. "The school board pretty much woke up to the equity issue," Anderson said. "This pilot will only be for two years, but given the instability of our budget, I am very happy with the outcome."