Seattle Public Schools will not change start times despite growing bus driver staffing concerns

May 18, 2022, 4:34 PM | Updated: May 20, 2022, 9:02 am

(Photo by Craig F. Walker via Getty Images)...

(Photo by Craig F. Walker via Getty Images)

(Photo by Craig F. Walker via Getty Images)

Superintendent Brent Jones has determined Seattle Public Schools (SPS) will continue the two-tier transportation system for the 2022-23 school year.

This followed internal discussions to change the system to three tiers, meaning three different starting times for the school day depending on the grade level.

The proposed change was for the Tier 1 block to start at 7:40 a.m., Tier 2 at 8:30 a.m., and Tier 3 at 9:30 a.m.

With the current two-tier system staying in place, Tier 1 is designated for most elementary schools, while Tier 2 is for K-8, middle, and high schools in the school district.

“Over the last several weeks, we have been listening to the concerns from school, families, and partners around the proposed move to a 3-tier bell schedule,” Jones said in response to families’ concern about the staggered times. “Seattle Public Schools is committed to providing reliable transportation that gets students to school on time and ready to learn. Staff will continue to work with schools, families, and partners over the next several weeks as we refine this plan.”

Parents brought up multiple concerns to the SPS Board, including high school student-athletes needing to leave class for athletic events, older siblings watching after younger siblings after class, traveling in the dark during winter months, and the potential changes to afterschool programs.

The three-tier system proposal coincided with a national shortage in bus drivers, including a deficiency in staff for First Student, the transportation service responsible for bussing SPS students to and from school. There are 50 suspended school bus routes due to a lack of drivers. Bus driver scarcity is expected to continue into the upcoming school year.

“We have no comment on the tiered structures under consideration as we believe SPS and its constituents in the community should decide what’s best,” said Scott Gulbransen, Senior Director of Communications for FirstGroup America, currently representing First Student. “We respect the process the SPS is following to make that choice. No matter how that plays out, our focus is to provide safe and reliable transportation for all those we serve in the SPS.”

First Student, the bus service SPS has used for more than 30 years, is currently competing against a rival company, Zūm Services, to win the bid and renew its contract as the exclusive transportation service for the district.

Rival to First Student exposes Seattle Schools’ fumbled bidding war

“No, that’s not an issue for us,” said Jesse Moore, the spokesperson for Zūm Services, when asked if a two-tier system would be an issue for Zūm Services. “An important caveat though is this process was supposed to be wrapped in December. But [Zūm Services] has set all its stuff up in a hurry before, so it wouldn’t be an issue long term.

“It’s not in First Student’s financial interest to solve this issue, that’s why they are pushing for three tiers,” Moore continued.

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