The Carroll County Board of Education decided against a proposal that would save roughly $1.2 million by adjusting bus schedules and requiring seven elementary schools to begin up to two hours later.
The transportation plan was met with skepticism at Wednesday’s monthly school board meeting, with five members of the public testifying against and one in favor..
Amy Meloche, a teacher at Eldersburg Elementary and a parent of a Carroll County student, said implementing the proposal next year would be unfair to educators, for whom the window for school transfer is already closed.
“If we continue down the path of asking bus drivers, secretaries, maintenance and educators to continue to take the brunt to solve these problems, we will not be as successful as we have been in the past,” Meloche said.Eldersburg and Spring Garden elementary schools would have experienced the greatest scheduling change under the plan, starting and ending two hours later. Friendship Valley, Freedom, Linton Springs, Piney Ridge and Westminster elementary schools also would have had earlier start times if the plan to eliminate 15 bus contracts by creating a fourth busing tier was approved. Superintendent Cynthia McCabe said the measure has roots in a fiscal 2013 transportation efficiency survey.
Bus routes would continue to take 30 minutes or less and no student would be home later than 5 p.m., according to the proposal. Schools affected by the change were chosen because they represent relatively smaller geographic areas.
Three bus contractors spoke in opposition to the plan, including Daniel Green, who said a longer day raises driver alertness concerns, that rush-hour traffic could have some students home later than 5 p.m. and that it could be dangerous for elementary students to walk home in the dark.
The plan would create bus availability issues for field trips and early athletic events and limit time for bus repairs between routes, bus contractor Dianne Grote said. She added that school administrators also would have to be staffed later to assist in case of emergency.
“There’s a potential risk of creating a greater driver shortage,” Grote said. “A majority of our employees are part-time, which attracts retirees or parents with school-aged children.”
Bus contractor Dean Harmon said he hopes the school board will reconsider a $600,000 request to increase driver pay and sick leave, especially if bus drivers are asked to work longer hours.
Lynsey White, the parent of a child set to attend kindergarten at Friendship Valley Elementary next year, said she respects the concerns expressed by others, but likes the proposal because it would work better for her schedule.
Board of Education President Marsha Herbert said she applauds the idea’s creativity in helping balance the school board budget, but the cons — especially concerns for student safety — outweigh the plan’s benefits.
“Our kids are priceless and I will not vote for this,” Herbert said. “I’m very sorry, I really would like to save more money but a child’s life is priceless — and when you say they’re going to get home at five o’clock that is not always true.”
Board of Education student representative Emilie Tedeschi said it is the wrong time for this plan because implementing universal prekindergarten and potentially redistricting several schools could merit a new examination of start times in several years.
“I just think we need to take a step back and slow down,” Tedeschi said.
Board member Steve Whisler, a former Baltimore County bus driver, said he would like to continue examining busing issues, including streamlining driver training and creating more shared routes that service multiple schools.
Taneytown Elementary and Northwest Middle schools share a combined bus route, but Director of Transportation Services Michael Hardesty said bus routes are already highly optimized and consolidated for maximum efficiency. Increasing the capacity of a bus means that bus can make fewer runs in one day, which increases the number of buses required.
Carroll County Public Schools needs to continue looking for ways to save money, McCabe said.
“What you’re seeing as far as the budget goes is the tip of the iceberg,” McCabe said. “Right now we are going to have to implement Blueprint and in doing so that’s going to mean a lot of cuts at certain schools and a lot of additions at other schools.
“So if I’m seeing the reaction that I’m seeing tonight, what’s going to happen when hundreds of teachers are transferred? What are we going to see at a board meeting in public participation? These are very serious times. And this year we have a budget crisis that we’re dealing with. But next year, the budget crisis will be at least four times what it is this year.”
McCabe will hold a town hall meeting on March 20 at 6 p.m. at Century High School, 355 Ronsdale Road in Sykesville, and another on April 19 at 6 p.m. at Winters Mill High School, 560 Gorsuch Road in Westminster. She said the meetings will give community members a better idea of what implementing billion-dollar Blueprint for Maryland’s Future education reform will entail.
The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future is education reform set to inject billions into the state’s public schools. Enacted in 2020, the plan is designed to reform Maryland’s early childhood, elementary and secondary schools so every student — regardless of geography, household income, race, ethnicity, gender, language spoken at home, special needs or other characteristics — will graduate and be ready to enter the workforce or higher education.