With a grant from the city, Seattle Public Schools plans to start all its schools at either 8 a.m. or 9 a.m. this coming fall.
Update: All Seattle schools will start between 7:55 a.m. and 8:55 a.m. starting this fall, and the school day will be 20 minutes longer than last year. The district modified its originally proposed times after the Seattle City Council voted to provide a one-time grant. The new start times are listed on the district website.
With a deadline looming, the Seattle City Council voted Wednesday to provide a one-time grant of $2.3 million to help Seattle’s school district simplify school start times.
With that money, the district plans to start all its schools at one of two times this fall: 8 or 9 a.m. This school year, schools started at three different times: 7:55, 8:45 and 9:35 a.m. Families said the 9:35 a.m. start time posed significant hardships for working families and families with children in schools that started at different times.
The district now is talking about starting all high schools and middle schools, except Denny International, at 9 a.m. Most elementary schools would start at 8 a.m. K-8 schools would be a mix, with some starting at 8 a.m., some at 9 a.m.
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The change would be the second in as many years for the district’s bell schedule. The School Board voted in November 2015 to start middle and high schools later to align with recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics, which says teenagers should start school at 8:30 a.m. or later.
Most middle and high schools in Seattle had been starting at 7:50 a.m. This year, most started at 8:45 a.m. To keep the change cost-neutral, the district kept three start times because having just two meant a need for extra buses and higher costs.
Even without the city grant, the district would have changed school-bell times because it was planning to add 20 minutes to each school day. But officials had said they didn’t have the money to also switch to two start times.
Mayor Ed Murray announced in April that he had asked the review board for the city’s Families and Education Levy to allocate funds from the levy for the extra school buses needed to make the start-time change.
Earlier this week, Councilmember Tim Burgess proposed using funds from the Seattle Department of Transportation’s budget instead of levy dollars. Burgess and Council President Bruce Harrell said paying for the grant from the levy would divert funds from “our most academically at-risk children, a policy choice that is morally wrong and inconsistent with the levy’s purpose.”
But providing a grant of some sort to help the district switch to a two-tier system is the right thing to do, Harrell said at Wednesday’s special meeting, when the council approved giving the district a grant from the transportation budget.
And if some think the move means the city wants to take over the school district, Councilmember Sally Bagshaw tried to quash that
“There are times when people are concerned that the city or the city council wants to take over the school district,” she said. “We don’t.”
The Seattle School Board voted last week to accept the grant, if the council approved it by Thursday. Board member Stephan Blanford, who was the sole “no” vote, said he was concerned that the district wouldn’t be able to secure funding in the future.
“We continue to just say: ‘Well, we’ll go ahead and hope for the best.’ But at some point we won’t have the ability to balance our budget if we continue to say that,” he said.
Board President Sue Peters noted that at one point, the district had more than two dozen start times, and last year it was down to only three. But the third tier has been a problem from the start, she said.
Having three start times instead of two, she said, “may have been cost neutral for the district, but it was not cost neutral for our families.”