Seattle council members back in June approved giving Seattle Public Schools $2.3 million to switch to a new two-tier bus system this fall—but the remaining question was where the money would come from.
The council on Monday unanimously approved using revenue from the Seattle Department of Transportation's photo enforcement program (known as the School Safety Traffic and Pedestrian Improvement Fund). The unspent funds, from a program using school-zone and red-light cameras to issue citations for traffic safety, would pay for Seattle Public Schools's contracted transportation services to move to the two-tier schedule for the 2017-2018 academic year.
Last year SPS switched to a three-tier bus schedule (7:55, 8:45, and 9:35am) to better align with students' sleeping patterns, leading to more engagement and better academic performance. But the schedule made it difficult for working parents who had kids in multiple grades. Originally proposed by Mayor Ed Murray to switch to the two-tier system, council members Tim Burgess and Bruce Harrell said the money should come from transportation funds rather than the Families and Education Levy, which they insisted had been earmarked for academic enrichment programs to address the achievement gap.
Council member Lisa Herbold said this year's $2.3 million allocation to public schools raises the question of whether other Safe Routes to Schools projects would be affected in the upcoming year and whether there can be other ways to supplement those projects in the budget.
Though Burgess supported the ordinance, he said several times that transportation funding is included under the scope of "basic education" and should be funded by the state, not locally. He said he supported it this year due to "the confusion of McCleary," but warned council members to make sure it would just be a one-time expenditure rather than a recurring one after he's gone.
"A year from now when you're asked to renew this one-time funding and make it permanent, you should remember this discussion," Burgess said. "I would just encourage us next year, when I'm not here, that the city government is not in the business of funding the school district for items that are in the definition of basic education."