New Bell Times Likely Coming To Seattle Schools Pending City Council Vote

Jun 13, 2017

School start times in Seattle are expected to change again next year, but doing it will take some maneuvering by the City Council this week.

The district school board has already voted to lengthen the school day and enact Wednesday early dismissals. Board members also want to change this year's three-tiered bell system to one with two tiers.

With just two start times, middle and high schools would start at 9:00 a.m. Most elementary schools would start at 8:00 a.m.

But the district doesn't have the money to pay for the buses it would need to make the switch. It asked the city of Seattle, whose budget process is mostly separate from the school district's, for a grant.

The city is open to the idea, but the sticking point has been where the money should come from.

In April, Mayor Ed Murray proposed using $2.3 million in surplus funds from the city's families and education levy.

City Councilmember Rob Johnson introduced legislation to that effect last week. The council was supposed to vote on it Monday.

But some council members expressed concern over using voted levy dollars for what they saw as an issue of basic education. The families and education levy funds early learning programs and academic enrichment for underserved students.

"At least my personal position is that the use of levy funds is an inappropriate mechanism by which to just raise all boats in this particular manner," Council President Bruce Harrell said during Monday morning's briefing.

Later that afternoon, Councilmembers Harrell and Tim Burgess introduced a new proposal to use funds from the transportation department.

The council then voted 5-3 to table the old plan indefinitely. It will vote Wednesday on the new proposal, which Councilmember Johnson says has consensus.

"I think it would be awkward for us to vote down a bill that would do the same thing today using a different revenue source and then vote up a bill on Wednesday," Johnson said.

Typically the council would have to wait a week to vote on new legislation. But it called a special Wednesday session to meet a school district scheduling deadline.

The $2.3 million -- now expected to come out of the city's transportation budget -- would be a one-time grant for buses to get the district started.

It's unclear what happens after next year. Historically the school district is reimbursed by the state for transportation costs. But debates in Olympia over education funding could affect what happens.