Aug 30, 2023 - Education

Seattle schools change start times to save money on busing

School bus with money

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

A dozen Seattle schools will start and end their days at different times this year, thanks to a district-wide effort to spend less money on buses.

What's happening: Changing the start and end times for those schools allows the district's contracted buses and drivers to serve more routes, saving the school district more than $4 million this year, Seattle Public Schools estimates.

Why it matters: For parents of students at the affected schools, the schedule change means getting kids to school an hour earlier or later, plus having to adjust after school child care to accommodate the shift.

  • The new school year in Seattle starts Sept. 6.

Context: Seattle Public Schools originally projected a $131 million budget shortfall for the 2023-24 school year, until it raided its rainy day fund and found ways to cut spending. The bus changes are part of that effort.

Details: The schools with new bell times are all elementary and K-8 campuses.

  • Five schools — Adams, Concord, Licton Springs K-8, Thurgood Marshall and TOPS K-8 — will move to earlier schedules, running from 7:55am-2:25pm most days.
  • Seven schools will have a later start time of 8:55am, ending at 3:25pm most days: Bailey Gatzert, Dearborn Park, John Hay, Green Lake, South Shore PreK-8, View Ridge and West Woodland.

What they're saying: "School start and end times have a significant effect on district budgets," the school district wrote on its website last week, calling the old bell schedule "out of balance."

  • "Bus drivers who serve these schools will be able to drive two or more routes rather than being limited to one route," the SPS website explains.

Yes, but: Michael Beneke, whose son is entering 8th grade at TOPS K-8, said he understands the district‘s budget challenges are serious — but he thinks the middle school students who are affected will have particular trouble adjusting to an earlier schedule.

  • "I know my son is going to have a difficult time getting to school on time and being in the right frame of mind to go there and learn," Beneke told Axios.
  • The district switched to later start times for high schoolers and most middle school students in 2016, based on evidence that teens are biologically inclined to stay up later and sleep in longer after they hit puberty.

What's next: Parents should be notified by mail of their child's assigned bus route no later than this week, district officials told Axios via email.

  • All bus routes are expected to be operational for the start of school, the district said.

Of note: The district is also ending supplemental shuttle service that served four high schools, as well as busing it provided to some Washington Middle School students following a change to the school's attendance zone boundary.

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