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.

3 responses to “A peek at the new transportation proposal

  1. What about charging a fee for bus transportation instead of eliminating bus routes? Many children attend schools far from home and will continue to do so for the next several years, so it only seems fair that they have a way to get to and from school. Transportation availability was a major factor in which schools I chose to consider under the current enrollment system, and I’m sure that the same goes for many parents. The school my children attend has a private afterschool program, but there is not space for everyone who needs it. Unfortunately, my kids may have to leave their school if the bus is eliminated.

  2. @Suzanne – that’s possible. Commissioner Yee specifically requested there be some consideration of field trips in the new policy.

  3. Will the reduction in the number of school buses also reduce the availability of school buses for field trips? My understanding is that schools have access to buses during the day between the times of drop off and pick up, but is that dependent on the number of buses that SFUSD uses, or is it a separate allocation?