After some major adjustments on where the money will come from, council members at a special meeting Wednesday approved giving Seattle Public Schools $2.3 million to switch to a new two-tier school bus system—passing the vote in time for schools to make the change in its 2017-2018 academic year.
The bill that passed, originally introduced by Rob Johnson, allows for one-time funding this year from the Seattle Department of Transportation (instead of the Families and Education Levy, which was originally proposed by mayor Ed Murray) and adjusts the 2017 budget to include the appropriation. While the legislation promises $2.3 million to the schools, it leaves room for change as to which SDOT funds the city would use.
An amendment states that "to fund this expense, council anticipates that the executive will direct unallocated fund balance in the School Safety Traffic and Pedestrian Improvement Fund" and other revenues that haven't been appropriated this year. The ordinance points out that council members will have to approve an amendment on another ordinance to use the SSTPI.
"We have been working hard to identify the right funding source to support our goal," said Johnson, who has two daughters in the public school system, in a released statement. "I am proud that we found unanimous council support for a solution that meets the district's deadline. At the end of the day, the goal is to ensure students get to school safely and ready to learn at their best. Our vote today supports just that."
Council members at their regular meeting Monday held the legislation that was up for a vote and would have approved using the Families and Education Levy to simplify the bus system to two tiers (8am and 9am) instead of three (7:55, 8:45, 9:35am).
Bruce Harrell and Tim Burgess (as well as the levy's oversight committee) opposed using the levy to fund a new school bus system, and said using the levy money would've violated the intent of the voters and diverts resources from academic enrichment programs meant to close the opportunity gap for at-risk children—the levy's intended purpose.
Members of the Levy Oversight Committee at the public hearing Monday spoke against using the Families and Education Levy, which was originally proposed by mayor Ed Murray. Lucy Gaskill-Gaddis, who's been on the committee since 2009, said they've "never had a request like this, which asked for the use of the money that's outside the scope of the levy."
Other parents came to speak in support of switching to the two-tier bus system—wherever the money comes from—and asked the city to help close the funding gap the state has left public schools.
Council members after that went back to the drawing board and came up with using Seattle Department of Transportation funds instead, with just two days left to meet the school district's deadline of June 15. Johnson also removed the addition of funding crossing guards.
Last year the school district switched its start times to what officials said is a schedule that would better align with students' sleeping patterns, leading to more engagement at school. Officials and parents said switching the schedules, again, to a two-tier system would better accommodate working families, especially those with kids in multiple grades.
Updated June 15, 2017, at 8:55am: This post was updated after the council vote on Wednesday.