We Need Transportation Solutions in Prince George’s County Schools

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by Janna Parker and Lori Morrow

The Prince George’s County Public Schools system has two hundred and seven schools spread over an area of five hundred miles of rural farmland, bustling cities, quiet suburbs and vibrant college towns, serving a community with a population of almost one million people just outside of the Nation’s capital. With statistics like that, it is imperative that the transportation for our school system be one of the best in the Country. Yet Prince George’s County Public Schools has struggled with meeting the demand for Transportation services in our county since at least 2015. Every year, the school system’s theme for September is “Attendance Awareness Month”, but this theme is greatly overshadowed by the volume of frustrating complaints from parents, students, and community members as buses arrive late, overcrowded, or not at all. 

While the national shortage of bus drivers extends well beyond the borders of Prince George’s County and Maryland, the working conditions of  bus drivers varies greatly from state to state, district to district. For months, PGCPS bus drivers have spoken before the Board of Education about the various issues that impact the retention of current employees and the recruiting of more drivers to our system. We greatly encourage the PGCPS Administration to work with the drivers in finding immediate solutions to address concerns including salary, benefits, working conditions in the bus lots, and the management of bus routes. Leadership must ensure all students are provided reliable transportation, as well as providing those trusted with our most precious cargo a proper compensation and safe and healthy work conditions.  

Through listening to testimony and conversations with bus drivers, we have heard about many possible solutions that could improve the working conditions of our drivers, thereby improving recruitment and retention to fill remaining vacancies: 

  • Providing drivers and attendants a livable wage to show the people transporting our children that they are valuable members of our PGCPS community. (The current rate of pay from the pay scale is x route hours (6-8) x 185 days / 22 pay periods, (https://www.pgcps.org/employee-and-labor-relations/), not including tax deductions, health insurance, etc.) 
  • Making salary proration an option instead of mandatory to provide employees more control over their pay
  • Guaranteeing all drivers and attendants a minimum of eight hours of pay per day 
  • Spreading health insurance deductions over all paychecks instead of 20
  • Allowing paid professional development days for drivers to participate in student safety training
  • Ensuring all bus lot facilities provide a safe, healthy work environments for employees, including adequate restrooms and cleaning services
  • Ensuring that drivers have input when scheduling routes, including making sure subsequent route times do not overlap and have realistic student loading/unloading times factored into the route timing 
  • Allowing summer work to accrue towards retirement
  • Considering hub system/routes where it makes sense for neighborhoods to consolidate routes which can be aligned to under the distance for those who walk to school
  • Providing compensation for drivers who pick up other routes during their shift to cover for absences/vacancies, similar to teachers who are compensated for having to cover additional classes due to lack of a substitute
  • Enforcing a 2-year commitment for drivers who receive Commercial Driver License training through PGCPS

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Sound Off: Parents Call for Better Bus Transportation

IMG_6355Some Prince George’s County parents have expressed frustration with the inadequacies in the school bus transportation system. Here, seven parents share their stories.

My son’s school day ends at 3:40, but he doesn’t arrive at his after-school care facility until some time between 5:35 and 5:55, just a few minutes before I pick him up from after care at 6:00 pm. He doesn’t have time to do his homework during after care, and he is struggling in school as a result. In the morning, he either arrives late to school and misses breakfast; or he eats breakfast when he arrives to school 15-30 minutes late, thus making him 30-45 minutes late to class.

— Kari Fischer


My son is bused for his IB+Autism high school, but the afternoon bus a) takes 2+ hours and b) picks up 15 minutes before school ends! Missing a chunk of academics — Algebra, no less — to leave 15 minutes early each day to then sit for 2+ hours on a bus (when it’s a 15-20 minute drive) is unacceptable.

—Alex Antunes


We stopped trying to ride the bus after three weeks of frustration. We could never get through on the transportation hotline and all of my emails went unanswered by the transportation office. The bus was scheduled to arrive between 4:26 and 4:46 daily but typically left the school around 4:30 pm and arrived at the bus stop between 5:00 and 5:30 pm. My son started getting frustrated because his bus was so late to school in the morning that he missed the morning announcements and technology class. We simply gave up — no one even tried to address our concerns.

— Rashida T.


We live in Bowie. My daughter attends Eleanor Roosevelt in Greenbelt. The bus is consistently late, causing my daughter to be late to her first period class. The teacher has started waiting about 10 minutes to start class because he knows the buses are notoriously tardy. This takes away from the amount of time that the teacher has for instruction in class. For the students who are unfortunate enough to arrive later than 10 minutes past the start of class, they just miss out.
This year I gave the bus for my son’s school a shot early on, but now I have chosen to drive him to his elementary school. The bus this year is not punctual. Maybe it will get better in a few weeks.

 

— Camilla M.

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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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2014 Maryland State Audit Calls for Better Use of Transportation Funds

by Genevieve Demos Kelley

A Financial Management Practices Audit Report dated February 2014 identified 23 areas of needed improvement in the internal controls and cost-effective processes and policies of Prince George’s County Public Schools. The audit was performed by the Office of Legislative Services of the Maryland General Assembly, with field work being conducted in 2011 and 2012.

Highlighted in the report were recommendations for improving the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of bus transportation services. From page one of the report:

We found that PGCPS did not use its automated bus routing software to ensure the efficient use of its fleet of 1,146 buses. Furthermore, since the data contained in the routing system appeared to be unreliable and other manual processes were not effective, PGCPS was unable to assess bus utilization.

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