Changes Coming in PGCPS Transportation System

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by Lori Morrow

How many PGCPS buses did you see during your morning commute today? According to Prince George’s County Public Schools administration, there are over 1,000 PGCPS drivers handling 5,000 bus routes to transport upwards of 85,000 students to and from school every day. This makes PGCPS the tenth largest school transportation system in the country.

Unfortunately  a large system combined with a nationwide shortage of qualified drivers with a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) has led to headaches for students, parents, PGCPS staff, and elected officials across Prince George’s County. It is a frequent topic for social media posts, emails, and Board of Education testimony. On February 6th, a parent testified about buses being so crowded that students resort to sitting in the aisle. Despite years of monthly hiring fairs, the shortage persists. Student enrollment has rebounded over the past decade and continues to grow. Four thousand new students enrolled in PGCPS since the September 30, 2019 report by Pupil Accounting. The growth in specialty program offerings also means more students are being transported beyond their neighborhood school.

On February 5th, the PGCPS Administration presented a briefing on Transportation to the Education and Workforce Development Committee of the Prince George’s County Council. Chief Operating Officer Barry Stanton, Associate Superintendent for Support Services Mark Fossett, and Director of Transportation Rudy Saunders provided the committee with an update on the current status of the PGCPS Transportation system, including current challenges and how the school system is working to overcome them.

Persistent vacancies and absences in PGCPS Transportation create a unique challenge. When a teacher is absent, there is a pool of substitutes or other school staff that can fill in. When someone on the executive team is absent, the work may wait for a day or two. Students who need to get to school, however, cannot be set aside. PGCPS does not have a pool of substitute bus drivers. Lot foremen with CDLs can fill in but that leaves offices unattended. Other bus drivers pick up the extra routes, but they do not have the ability to be in multiple places at the same time. As a result, students are late and missing out on instruction every day.

In tackling this ongoing issue, PGCPS Chief Executive Officer Dr. Monica Goldson established a Transportation Task Force this past fall. Composed of staff and parents, the Task Force has met three times so far and is set to finish their work in March of 2020. They expect to provide Dr. Goldson with preliminary proposals by the end of February.

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Parents, Board Address Transportation Issues

by Genevieve Demos Kelley
IMG_6355The Prince George’s County Board of Education held its last meeting of the school year on June 14th and adopted—in a 9 to 4 vote—a $1.93 billion Annual Operating Budget for Fiscal Year 2017. Dissenting votes were cast by Edward Burroughs III, Beverly Anderson, Verjeana Jacobs, and Zabrina Epps.

The budget was significantly smaller than the $2 billion that the Board had requested from the County Executive in February. Dozens of cuts were made during the budget reconciliation process, including the $1.27 million proposal to hire 25 additional bus drivers for the 2016-2017 school year.

While the issue of bus transportation was by no means the only topic of the evening, it got plenty of attention from parents, students, Board members, and PGCPS employees. Here are some highlights of the transportation-related comments made during the meeting.

During the Public Comment portion:

A parent at 49:34 in the video of the meeting:

I was disappointed to see that the additional 25 bus drivers were cut in the reconciliation budget. The ongoing shortage of bus drivers has led to doubled-up routes, significant delays, and even the inability to answer the transportation hotline in the morning, because staff are needed to drive . . . Without the additional drivers, I sincerely hope that the transportation department is spending the summer looking for a more efficient way to get students where they need to be, because what we have now is not working well. Students cannot learn if they cannot get to school.

A Northwestern High student representing the Hyattsville Teen Advisory Committee at 1:11:17 (this is a must-watch testimony):

We did some research to find out what was causing the problem of late school buses, and we found two causes: poor pay and poor working conditions [boisterous applause from audience].  .  . [Bus drivers] are often disrespected by students on the bus, and students say that they don’t even know their bus drivers’ names. We recommend that all schools include bus drivers in their orientation at the beginning of the year, and the principal introduce the bus drivers to students and review the rules and consequences for riding the bus [more applause from audience]. We recommend that the school board pass a bus driver appreciation day for the district to honor and recognize the work of bus drivers who support our students and their schools.

Jossalyn Ford, chief steward for the Transportation Chapter of Local 2250 bus driver at 1:17:26:

We work very hard every day to transport the children who attend Prince George’s County Public Schools to and from safely. As we approach the end of the year, we are short of help. As you have very well know that we are doubling, tripling runs. We are tired. We’re doing our very best to transport these kids every single day. But as we do so, we have bus attendants also working with us who have been waiting two or more years to become permanent, to have benefits. HR keeps saying, ‘We don’t have the positions.’ They don’t have the money to hire these people.  .  . And we, as a local, can’t defend a sub-employee .  .  . But I’m telling you right now, we cannot go into next year doing what we’re doing this year.  .  . We have meetings on a month-to-month basis, where we come together and try to address all these issues, and nothing is being done.

A parent at 1:25:16:

I’m mom of a third grader at Tulip Grove Elementary, and for the past several weeks, we’ve been experiencing inconsistent and unreliable bus pickups in the morning. In particular, because of the doubling up on the routes and the tripling up on the routes, you know, sometimes it will be fifteen to thirty minutes before the children are picked up to go to school. We’ve had occasions when the bus just hasn’t appeared .  .  . [W]e could use some communication in some way shape or form, some kind of system in place that could notify parents of an issue, if a bus is going to be late, if a bus is not going to arrive. I’m thinking something similar to bus ETA, like what WMATA uses, something like that. Where we can have warning of notice of a late arrival time . . .If we know, as parent, what’s happening, what to expect, we can make other plans to get our children to school and to get ourselves to work on time. . . I would really urge you to reconsider the staffing levels for bus drivers, because we need to get these kids to school, rather than leave them standing out on the corner for 30 minutes in the morning.

During the Budget Consent Agenda Discussion:

Board member Verjeana Jacobs’s comments at 1:35:03 regarding the value of hiring additional bus drivers vs. adding Lacrosse as a varsity sport:

It’s really disheartening that our employees, bus drivers included, have gone years without adequate funding in the budget, and every year we expect them to just accept that we don’t have money, and it’s just not acceptable .  .  .  A lot of people in my district [District 5], let’s just be clear, love lacrosse. And I do too. But not at the expense of bus drivers who have to get our kids safe here every day, and not at the expense of class size, math specialists, and reading specialists.

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Weekly News Roundup: Construction Delays, Maintenance Concerns, Literacy Coaches, Openings for Bus Drivers and Nurses

Accokeek Academy middle school students thought that they would begin the new school year in a newly renovated building, but due to construction delays, they are still in portable classrooms. The Academy is a K-8 school, and the elementary school portion of the renovation was completed in 2014. However, the new HVAC system has not worked properly since the upgraded building opened. (Sentinel)

In a September 24 meeting, the Board of Education discussed the need for better maintenance of facilities and debated whether there is inequity between schools in the southern and northern regions with respect to the system’s responsiveness to maintenance needs. (Sentinel)

In 2014, only 12% of PGCPS students who took the SAT demonstrated college readiness, compared with a 41% of students in the state of Maryland. PGCPS hopes that literacy coaches in schools will help to change that. (ABC 7)

Arne Duncan’s departure as Education Secretary — happening in December — has been met with a wide range of reactions. The Washington Post publishes a roundup of reactions, from Duncan’s critics and supporters. (Washington Post)

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