More than a month into the school year, Prince George’s County Public Schools in Maryland is still short about 200 bus drivers. It means lots of students spend time waiting for buses to pick them up in the morning and take them home in the afternoon — if the buses even come at all.
During a briefing before the county council committee that oversees education issues, Superintendent Millard House and his team went over the short and long-term solutions aimed at addressing those problems.
In the short term, the county is working to improve communication by texting, emailing and even calling parents if their child’s bus will be significantly delayed. The county is using contact information provided through the SchoolMAX portal to reach out to those who might be affected on any given day.
In addition, some bus routes that don’t necessarily see a lot of kids riding at any given time — such as special education students and situations that require transportation to specialized schools — will end up being replaced by passenger vans the county is renting. The school system in the process of hiring drivers for those routes since van drivers don’t need a commercial driver’s license the way school bus drivers do. Interviews for those jobs will start soon.
“In the meantime the vans will be outfitted with cameras, GPS and communication systems so that they are in alignment with our regular buses,” said Charoscar Coleman, the school district’s chief operating officer. He expected the vans to start taking over those routes in November, “which will free up traditional buses to take on different runs.”
The county is also working to fill some vacant bus routes by offering free CDL training to prospective drivers, who would also get paid to take the training classes.
Prince George’s County schools also hired a firm to audit its transportation system. It should be concluded in December with a final report and long-term recommendations made public by the school system in January.
“I’m committed… to ensure that regardless of how uncomfortable those recommendations are, if they’re in the best interest of children and this community, and in an effort for us to get better with this particular service, we look forward to doing so,” said House.
He also expanded on what some of those “uncomfortable” changes could entail.
“Sometimes, these kind of recommendations can come with the cost of schools having to change their bell times or do different things,” House added. “But whatever it takes, our goal is to get better.”