Bus service may end for 1,000 Seattle students to save money
The Seattle School Board will vote this week on a proposed $3.4 million cut to the transportation budget that would eliminate yellow-bus service for up to 1,900 riders “grandfathered” in 2010 when redrawn school boundaries meant they no longer qualified for the ride.
Seattle Times education reporter
About 1,000 children who have been riding on borrowed time to schools outside their neighborhoods would lose bus service if the Seattle School Board adopts a proposal to trim about $3.4 million from the transportation budget at its Wednesday meeting.
They already were enrolled in their schools and receiving bus service in 2010 when the school district started using a neighborhood-based system that guarantees students a seat in a school close to home.
The district allowed them to continue riding for two more years, and the School Board twice extended the grandfathering arrangement for an additional year.
But Seattle Public Schools wants to end it starting next fall to save money.
District officials say 1,900 children qualify for busing under the grandfathering deal. Some make other arrangements, but 1,076 are daily bus riders, mostly at elementary schools and K-8 schools.
The proposal also would streamline the bus schedule so that buses arrive at just three times in the morning — 7:35 at most high schools and middle schools, and either 8:25 or 9:15 at most elementary schools.
Because buses must arrive at least 15 minutes before classes can begin, the changes also would move the schools’ start times.
Staggering arrival times makes it possible for buses to make multiple trips but requires a complex juggling act that must account for several factors including the length of the school day, rush-hour traffic, the proximity of schools to one another on a route and the grades of the riders.
Most schools would be adjusted by five to 20 minutes earlier or later.
But buses at four K-8 schools — Jane Addams, Pathfinder, Salmon Bay and TOPS (The Option Program at Seward) — would arrive a half-hour earlier, at 7:35 a.m., like the high schools and middle schools.
Those four are all option schools drawing students from a wide area, which means some parents not only will lose their grandfathered bus transportation, they’ll have to get their kids to school a half-hour earlier.
Sheila Anderson is one of those parents who might get double-whammied if the board approves the changes.
She lives in the Green Lake area and has a third-grader and a fifth-grader who ride the bus to TOPS, a K-8 public school in the Eastlake neighborhood that emphasizes social justice and citizenship.
“We’re going to have to get our kids up early and drive them to school if we want to stay at TOPS, because we’re losing busing based on where we live and we’re having to do all of that really early in the morning,” Anderson said.
She estimates that between 100 and 150 children at TOPS, which attracts students from all over the city, would lose bus service if the district ends the grandfathering arrangement.
This year, buses arrive at TOPS at 8:05 a.m. and classes start at 8:20 a.m. If the new schedule passes, classes would start at 7:50 a.m.
She said some families that live in the South End could be looking at a 45-minute commute.
She and her husband also would have to figure out how to get their kids home much earlier in the afternoon, one of several problems working parents would have to solve that she has outlined in a memo on the school’s website.
The district said families that can’t make it work would be able to change schools during the open-enrollment period, which begins Feb. 24.
Families will be guaranteed space in their designated neighborhood school if they want it.
The School Board and the district have to erase a budget shortfall of between $18 million and $19 million.
The board asked administrators to search for savings in student transportation, which costs the district about $32 million a year.
Board member Sherry Carr said the grandfathering policy already has lasted beyond the original commitment.
“When we implemented the student-assignment plan, we had indicated that the transportation was assured for two years and we said after that it would be a year-by-year decision,” Carr said. “There’s been ample notice that this could expire.”
John Higgins: 206-464-3145 or firstname.lastname@example.org On Twitter @jhigginsST