Seattle Public Schools to Parents: Psych! Now You Give Us $1 Billion?
On May 3, 2012, Seattle Public Schools announced that to save money they were thinking about doing things differently for the 2012-2013 school year.
Noting that the district pays more than $14 million annually from levy funds for transportation costs, they announced they proposed to: standardize first bell times from 21 different times to approximately six, and allow up to 45 minutes for a bus ride, up from 25 minutes, to make sure buses were full.
Parents would have until May 16 (thirteen days) to respond. They didn’t need thirteen days. By May 11, the unrest was a Seattle Times story: “Parents upset about proposal for earlier school-bus pickup.” As people digested the proposal, many realized that the combination of an earlier, standardized start time, plus a longer bus ride, meant they might need to have their kids up and at the bus stop by 6:30 a.m.
This, despite research that found adolescents’ brains particularly are fogged by sleep from 11 p.m. to 8 a.m. And, despite rules forbidding the district from making such last-minute changes: “The one-year plan was developed without public comment. It was announced weeks after the end of the open-enrollment period, a violation of district policy,” pointed out the Times.
As a third strike, the hastily concocted plan was developed by the same people who admit to the following:
At the beginning of this school year, Seattle Public Schools implemented a new three-tiered transportation system that was aimed at cutting costs and providing our students with a shorter bus ride. We projected that this new system would save up to $4 million (and budgeted for a $3 million savings), but instead transportation staff informed the Board in February that it saved only $2 million.
Duggan Harman, the district’s top financial officer, did not allay any concerns by telling the Times that: “The staff has been focusing literally 24/7 on this. We had one staff member who slept here Wednesday night.” That may explain the “approximately” six bell times. Given that bell times aren’t fractional, I think you have translate “approximately” as “We’re going to say six because it sounds specific, but we really haven’t decided yet.”
While I was trying to make sense of this dishearteningly stupid story, Seattle Public Schools made a new announcement: “New proposal calls for return to current 2011-12 transportation plan and minimal impact to current bell times.”
Seattle Schools Community Forum, which has been watchdogging the district on this, calls the statement a “remarkable piece of dis-information.” It’s hard to argue with their concerns about how transportation logistics became a last-minute fire drill. The announcement makes no notice of the violation of the district’s own policy, and backtracks on most everything except for longer bus routes:
The new proposal will return to the current 2011-12 transportation plan (and therefore, minimal impact to current bell times) and a return to the 2010 ride times of up to 45 minutes. This new option is expected to save the District between $250,000 and $500,000.
By now, Seattle Public Schools has solidified a public perception of itself as a gang that can’t shoot straight (or, alternatively, a “Ready, fire, aim!” brigade). For most of the first decade of the 21st century, Seattle Public Schools fought a battle to close schools it said were under-enrolled.
This year? Seattle Times, take it away: “Seattle school officials, struggling with state budget cuts and an unexpected enrollment spike, are preparing to ask voters for more than $1 billion next winter.” More than $1 billion! For what, precisely?
School Board members say they are leaning toward asking for about $700 million over six years—nearly a 50 percent increase—to reopen, rehabilitate and rebuild more than a dozen schools across the city.
Oh. And in fact the missing $2 million in savings that never materialized from transportation? The district credits this partly to the spike in enrollment as well. They simply did not see those students coming. Well, new decade. It’s only been twenty or thirty years of “money pit” stories. Probably nothing that working harder, not smarter can’t solve.