Tag Archives: transportation

Meeting recap: October 23, 2012

Yet another very brief meeting tonight. Aside from mostly routine items on the agenda, the Board heard an update on general education transportation cuts/planning for 2013-14 and also changes to the staffing of the Parents Advisory Council (PAC).

I’ve noted in the past that the Board has directed staff to cut general education transportation, and also align what transportation resources remain to help meet our student assignment and parent engagement goals. Since 2010-11, the number of general education buses serving schools has decreased from 44 to 30; in 2013-14 that number will fall to 25. Those cuts have been motivated by budgetary concerns  because we have not been able to justify keeping a high-cost transportation program (roughly $100,000 per bus in service per year, excluding special education buses ) while cutting back classroom services –especially because the state has continually cut back home-to-school transportation funding. Continuing to fund a robust transportation program in the face of these cuts means taking money away from the general fund, which pays for general education teachers, textbooks and classroom supplies.

After absorbing the cuts, the district must continue working on realigning the remaining transportation resources to serve other goals — closing the achievement gap, for example, and providing equitable access to citywide programs. Right now,  transportation planning is in phase one — cuts. Phase two — and this work hasn’t really begun — is the community engagement and planning work  that must be part of realigning our admittedly insufficient transportation resources to make sure those resources are supporting our district priorities.

In the meantime, here are the transportation cuts announced for 2013-14:

  • All general education transportation services to ER Taylor ES, Gordon J Lau ES and New Traditions ES will be eliminated, affecting 44, 24 and 22 morning riders, and 48, 20 and 17 afternoon riders, respectively;
  • Service to Aptos MS from the Mission (affecting 57 morning riders and 56 afternoon riders) will be eliminated (service from Carver ES and Starr King ES was added for 2012-13);
  • Service to Hoover MS from the Bayview (affecting 20 morning riders and 27 afternoon riders) will be eliminated (service to Hoover from Moscone ES and Serra ES was added for 2012-13.

The other major announcement at the meeting was the departure of Ruth Grabowski, who has served for more than eight years as the staff coordinator of the district’s Parent Advisory Council. Board members expressed sincere gratitude for Ruth’s contributions to the PAC’s work over the years — the PAC has been exemplary in its commitment to diversity, parent engagement and respectful but pointed critiques of district actions and initiatives and Ruth has played a major role in these efforts. 

Happily, Ruth is not going far — she will now be working for the school district and helping to lead our efforts in parent and community engagement; Georgia Bratt-Williams, a current PAC member, will take over her position as PAC staff coordinator.

Recap: Quality middle schools and transportation cuts

Lots of news out of tonight’s Committee of the Whole, specifically:

  • Staff outlined several options for middle school assignment, including an updated map of how MS feeder patterns could look and a recommendation to phase in the feeder patterns gradually. (See these handy-dandy lists–sorted by MS and by ES — which are way easier to read than the maps. I must caution again that these are draft proposals — not set in stone. There is a whole community feedback project happening in February and March, so everyone will have a chance to weigh in. I see some problems myself.)
  • Staff also presented more specifics about transportation cuts already approved by the board, including a list of schools that will lose buses in 2011-12, and additional schools that will lose buses in 2012-13. Together, the two-year reductions will reduce the number of school buses operated by the district by 43 percent. (For more info, read the district’s excellent FAQ on the new transportation policy, here).

So, first up: building high quality middle schools in every neighborhood. This is the frame being used by the project team, and while it sounds kind of obvious, it’s still the overarching goal. It’s also honest, since it’s the district’s acknowledgement that not every middle school is where it should be.  According to the presentation:

Creating quality middle schools requires us to build stronger programs and pathways in a number of areas: Academies/Magnets; GATE/Honors; Language Pathways; Special Education; Visual and Performing Arts.

In order to do this, the district has previously committed to several different projects: an ambitious redesign of special education, and  enhancing and building language pathways K-12 to support English Learners (our legal obligation under the Lau decision) and to provide opportunity for every child to become bilingual and bicultural. There is good work underway to expand academies and magnet programs, but in my personal view, GATE/Honors definitely needs more attention. The Superintendent is also proposing to extend the school day at middle schools to 7 periods in order to accommodate the increased language pathways, estimates this would cost almost $6 million; another option might be a 4 x 4 block schedule that would have students alternating courses on a MWF and TuTh schedule — according to the Superintendent’s statements tonight, the cost of such a block schedule would be similar to adding a 7th period at all middle schools, but provide additional course choices to students.

So how would MS enrollment work? The staff presented three options:

  • Choice – forgoing a middle school feeder pattern at the current time and identifying other ways to accommodate expected growth in demand for middle school seats.
  • Implement K-8 feeder patterns for 2012-13, which would allow the district to quickly realize the benefits of virtual K-8 pathways but could create a sense among families that the patterns unfairly create “winners” and “losers,” undermining the expected benefits of the policy.
  • Phase in K-8 feeder patterns, by using the feeder patterns as a “tiebreaker” in MS enrollment. This would encourage voluntary parent participation in building virtual K-8s, but would mean that benefits would be realized more slowly.

Staff and the board’s clear preference was for the third option, which would make feeder patterns more voluntary. There was some discussion over the proposed order of tiebreakers, since tonight’s proposal prioritized feeder patterns over younger siblings — most Board member’s disagreed and thought younger siblings should still be the top preference, followed by feeder-pattern preference, then CTIP, then attendance area.

Next steps: staff will continue working on the project plan, incorporating feedback gathered by PPS and the PAC, which will be leading the community engagement effort over the next two months. A final proposal will come to the Board sometime in May.

Then, the transportation proposal. As I’ve previously written, the Board last month voted to cut transportation by $1.4 million over two years, going from 44 buses in 2010-11 to 25 by 2012-13.  Tonight’s presentation detailed the staff’s plan for phasing in those cuts.

The staff presentation has lots of detail on which schools will lose what buses when, but by 2012-13 these schools will lose all bus service: Alamo, Argonne, Buena Vista, Cleveland, El Dorado, Glen Park, Hillcrest, Lafayette, McKinley, New Traditions, Ortega, Rosa Parks, Redding, Sheridan, Starr King, Stevenson, E.R. Taylor, Tenderloin, Ulloa, and Visitacion Valley Elementary.

Remaining bus service will be prioritized to allow students living in CTIP1 (low test score) areas access to language programs and K-8 programs. Additionally, schools that are already have robust ridership from CTIP1 (Lakeshore) will be able to keep their buses. Busing to all or most non-SFUSD afterschool programs will be eliminated.

I don’t feel we have much choice but to cut transportation, and I’d rather spend precious dollars on actual programs than moving students around. At the same time, I understand it’s important to preserve access, and I think the staff plan does a nice job of balancing our budget realities with the Board’s priorities. I am most worried about the transition from one system to another — I know there are going to be lots of families who depend on the buses and will be taken by surprise by these cuts.

Review the detail in the staff presentation, and then offer any feedback you might have on the district’s online survey.  You can also print out this form, fill it out, and return it according to the instructions on the form.

Ready for tomorrow?

The agenda for the Feb. 1 Committe of the Whole is posted, and wow. It’s going to be quite a meeting. After the “curve ball” I wrote about in mid-January, staff is now planning to bring us a firmer proposal for middle school enrollment — but I’m the first to say that I really have no idea what they are going to show us tomorrow night.

In addition, we’re scheduled to discuss changes to transportation. I’ve heard from a few people who are waiting to turn in their Round I assignment requests until they hear this presentation, so I hope it has the detail they’re looking for. I have my doubts that it is going to be stop-specific; but hopefully they will at least let us know the routes that may be eliminated.

The meeting starts at 6 p.m. in the Board room at 555 Franklin St.; we have requested that SFG-TV stream it online.

Student assignment and transportation: meeting recap

At tonight’s meeting of the Ad Hoc committee on student assignment, Board members were briefed on the Superintendent’s proposed transportation policy, which will come up for a vote at tomorrow night’s meeting of the full Board. The upshot:

  • General education transportation will be reduced by $1.4 million — currently there are 44 buses running routes in the morning and afternoon, but by the beginning of the 2013-14 school year there will be 25 buses;
  • Remaining routes will be reshuffled to align with the Board’s goals;
  • There will be limited transportation to afterschool programs (children bused to non-SFUSD programs may see their transportation eliminated).

I generally support the Superintendent’s proposal because I am more interested in applying our very limited dollars to the classroom than I am in continuing a transportation system that makes little sense under our current realities. I also support the district’s (unrealized) vision of sufficient afterschool program capacity at every school. Still, I have consistently said that I do not think the new transportation policy as proposed offers enough support to families who will find the transition to the new system to be very painful.

Currently, there are about 3,300 SFUSD students who depend on a morning and/or afternoon bus. After this policy is fully implemented, there will be perhaps 2,000 students riding yellow buses to or from school.  Five years from now, families will have adjusted their school choices and commute patterns to match the options available (yellow bus transportation, carpooling, walking or MUNI). But as I said above, the transition will be painful for families who made their choices under one system and are going to find their options shifting right under their feet.

But commissioners made very clear tonight that they disagree with my suggestion that the district offer guarantees — either of new school assignments or space in afterschool programs — to families who suddenly find their arrangements unworkable for their commutes or work schedules. The best I could get was an assurance that counseling would be available for parents who need help making new arrangements. Hopefully that will be enough.

Next up: Parents for Public Schools-SanFrancisco and the Parent Advisory Council presented plans for an extensive community engagement effort around the middle school feeder patterns — initially proposed for the 2011-12 school year but postponed until the 2012-13 year after objections from parents and school communities — particularly around the implementation of language pathways.

Starting in late January, SFUSD will convene (in partnership with PPS-SF and the PAC) community meetings at each of our 15 Middle Schools and other community organizations to review a draft proposal from district staff and elicit reactions from community members. Those meetings will continue through March, with a report on the community feedback issued to the Board sometime in April.  The goal is for the Board to adopt a final middle school feeder plan in May.

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In other news, the Board’s Curriculum and Program committee heard a report on the district’s Small Schools by Design policy, which is up for review this year. Board members asked for a more extensive review of student achievement and other data to be brought to a Committee of the Whole later this year.

The committee also voted to send the C5 International School charter application to the full board with a negative recommendation based on the staff review of its curriculum offerings. The full Board will vote whether to approve the C5 International School’s charter application tomorrow night, Dec. 14.

Mark your calendars: upcoming SFUSD meetings and events

The next two meetings of the Ad Hoc meeting on student assignment will be of interest to folks who are concerned about the new transportation policy and/or the middle school assignment policy for 2012-13 and beyond.

Tomorrow night’s agenda features a staff presentation on the new transportation policy — a substitute motion will be introduced to the Board incorporating earlier feedback; in addition Parents for Public Schools and the Parent Advisory Council will present plans for a large-scale community engagement effort around the middle school feeder patterns.

Additionally, I’m told that at the January meeting of the Ad Hoc committee (not yet scheduled but usually the 2nd Monday of the month) we will be presented with more information on the planning for middle school feeder patterns.  More information when it is available.

Finally, the installation (swearing in) of Board members elected (and re-elected) last month will occur on Friday, Jan. 7, at Tenderloin Community School, starting at 6 p.m. The public is cordially invited.

A peek at the new transportation proposal

At tonight’s meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee on Student Assignment, Board members got a peek at the Superintendent’s proposal to align our student transportation system to the new assignment system’s goals (I’ll post the presentation as soon as I have it in electronic form). Note that all of the discussion below refers only to general education transportation — students with disabilities are entitled to door-to-door transportation if it supports access to a free, appropriate public education, regardless of budget considerations.

Each general education bus (not route, since most buses run multiple routes) costs the district somewhere between $90,000 and $100,000 annually. The Superintendent is proposing to reduce the number of buses from 44 to 25 over a three-year “phase-out” period beginning in 2011-12. The Board has long been asking for a reduction in our overall transportation spending, but beyond that, has asked for our system of transportation — which hasn’t been overhauled since the 1980s — to be redesigned to align with the Board’s goals for student assignment.  To do this, the staff proposed several objectives:

  • Provide transportation to racially-isolated schools that have traditionally been underenrolled;
  • Maintain current routes that help create diverse enrollments;
  • Provide students living in low test score (CTIP 1) areas with access to K-8 schools, language immersion programs and the SF Public Montessori School;
  • Provide English learners with access to biliteracy and immersion programs;
  • Provide newcomers with access to newcomer programs;
  • Provide reasonable access to attendance area schools in areas where attendance area is geographically large (e.g., Daniel Webster);
  • Provide students in densely-populated areas with reasonable access to schools in less-populated areas of the City;
  • Support access to SFUSD afterschool programs in areas where afterschool programs are not available at the elementary school.

All of these objectives have a downside: many students currently being bused would lose access to transportation. This past year, the Board eliminated all busing to high schools, but staff said tonight that the five buses currently serving middle school students would probably be preserved until the Board approves a new elementary-to-middle school feeder plan (currently on hold). That means that most of the impacted students would be those enrolled in elementary school programs; currently 3,300 students are regularly bused to and/or from SFUSD elementary schools to their homes or afterschool programs.

One of the things Board members requested tonight was a deeper understanding of who is being bused where, and which/how many students would be affected by eliminating elementary routes and service to non-SFUSD afterschool programs. The idea of eliminating service to non-SFUSD afterschool programs could have a huge impact on students, since currently we offer service to 19 SFUSD afterschool programs and 31 non-SFUSD programs. Parents depend on these programs and I feel strongly that we cannot jerk the rug out from under families without offering any kind of safety net.

But what would such a safety net look like? One suggestion might be to offer students currently being transported to non-SFUSD programs space in an SFUSD program, preferably one on-site but if that isn’t possible, then transportation to an SFUSD-run program nearby. I don’t really love that suggestion because it seems counter-intuitive — why cut one bus route only to offer another? In some cases, this proposed solution could be more efficient because instead of transporting 20 students from the same school to five or six different afterschool programs, we would now transport them to one program. But I prefer a guarantee that every student who loses transportation to an off-site afterschool program will instead be offered on-site afterschool care — as a district we have envisioned a goal of on-site afterschool care at every site, and this guarantee would support that vision. It may, however, not be feasible due to budget restrictions, licensing red tape, and other concerns.

Right now I am not prepared to support any proposal that leaves working families high and dry without access to afterschool care, so we’ll have to see what the data says and how the proposal evolves once it is fully fleshed out. But I would urge school communities to begin talking about how they might respond if busing to off-site afterschool programs were no longer available.

Discussion then shifted to the district’s outreach plan to ensure families are fully aware of new deadlines and procedures for the new assignment system.  In August, the Educational Placement Center convened a meeting of 40 community organizations and advocacy groups to gather ideas and input on how best to reach out and inform families about the big changes in school assignment. From that meeting, the following plan emerged (in addition to the traditional avenues of media outreach, public service announcements, mailings and posters/flyers in public places):

  • New guides are under development, including specific advice and information for high school enrollment, for families seeking programs to support English Learners, a guide to the new enrollment policy, and special marketing materials for families at Superintendent’s Zone schools. The district will also continue to publish a special education enrollment guide (Board members pointed out we still don’t know what it will say), and a guide to Elementary and Middle schools.
  • The EPC and community partners will convene workshops at the November 13 Enrollment Fair (covering topics like the Lowell HS application process, programs for English Learners, immersion programs, special education programs, and Pre-K to K special education transitions). In addition, seven enrollment workshops (now called “Discovery Workshops”) will be held at locations around the city between mid-November and late January.
  • EPC has a new “Mobile Center” that will bring staff to do targeted outreach in neighborhoods around the City, including Treasure Island, Bayview, Western Addition, the Mission, and Visitacion Valley. The Mobile Center will provide one-on-one enrollment counseling, collect applications, and offer product giveaways to families.
  • In the week before applications are due (early-to-mid February), EPC staff will be available in different parts of the city — the Bayview, Richmond, Outer Mission, Chinatown, Potrero Hill and Sunset — to collect applications from families.
  • EPC staff will also conduct “Walking the Beat” outreach, identifying high-traffic walking locations throughout SF and distribute postcards with information about Key Dates and Mobile EPC services, as well as enrollment applications.
  • Students at Superintendent’s Zone schools will be taken on “Road Trips” to middle and high schools to learn about what to expect next year and what their options are.
  • Staff are using technology in new ways, including investigating text messaging options and working with a marketing group (paid for with a grant) to develop a new enrollment web site to help families search for an appropriate school program. The enrollment process now has a new tag line, too: “Discover. Apply. Enroll.”

I continue to get a lot of questions on the ins and outs of the new system (an FAQ of sorts is here; read the comments for additional questions/answers). Lots more details will be available at the various Discovery Workshops (school addresses are available here):

  • Saturday, Nov. 20: 10 a.m. – 12 noon at Dr. Charles Drew Elementary;
  • Wednesday, Dec. 1: 6 p.m. -8 p.m.  at Marina Middle School;
  • Thursday, Dec. 2: 6 p.m. -8 p.m.  at A.P. Giannini Middle School;
  • Saturday, Dec. 4: 10 a.m. – 12 noon at Bret Harte Elementary;
  • Saturday, Dec. 11: 10 a.m. – 12 noon at Bryant Elementary;
  • Saturday, Jan. 22: 10 a.m. – 12 noon at Junipero Serra Elementary;
  • Saturday, Jan 29: 10 a.m. – 12 noon at Rosa Parks Elementary.

Finally, key dates — please don’t deluge me with questions about how the different dates for letters work because I don’t know — I just heard about them tonight. All will be revealed on November 13 (I am repeating that mantra to myself in a hopeful voice several times a day between now and the Enrollment Fair):

  • Enrollment Fair: November 13, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Concourse — 7th and Brannan Streets.
  • Deadline for March Placement (what we used to call Round I): Feb. 18;
  • March Placement letters sent: March 18;
  • Deadline for May Placement (what we used to call Round II): April 15;
  • May Placement letters sent: May 13;
  • August Placement letters: TBD.