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Baltimore County students forced to sit in aisles of buses

Parents worried about safety, BCPS working on routes
Posted at 5:23 PM, Sep 05, 2019
and last updated 2019-09-05 19:39:01-04

PERRY HALL, Md. — Some students in Baltimore County have found their buses so overcrowded that they have to sit on each other's laps or in the aisle. And that's if the school buses make it to pick them up at all. These are some of the complaints WMAR-2 News heard from parents in the Perry Hall area.

"I'm shocked I haven't heard of someone being hurt," said parent Kelly Denham. "My fifth grader at Gunpowder Elementary School has yet to be picked up for school this year. All three days, the bus has not come."

"Safety should be number one at all times," said parent Jennifer Cabeza.

Her high school son said his bus is really bad.

"He's 6'3" 200 pounds and they have three children on the bus on one seat and they can't fit so they are sitting on the flood of the bus driving on 695 to Sparrows Point and Patapsco to drop these kids off," said Cabeza.

"It's not safe and we did have issues last year where my son would call me and say. 'The bus hasn't come yet. Do I have to go to school?'," said parent Carrie Ayd.

Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski gave the school system record high funding this year, but parents are wondering where that money is being spent after seeing what their kids went through the first week of school.

"We are confident they have the resources to make it happen but we are going to push them to prioritize to ensure that our kids are getting to and from school both safely but also on time," said Olszewski.

Baltimore County Public Schools sent this to Perry Hall area families about the transportation changes:

After gathering feedback from our stakeholders, the BCPS Office of Transportation partnered with industry experts to assess student transportation in the Northeast area. This collaboration yielded changes to our delivery of service, efficient use of resources, and routing practices. As a result, the overwhelming majority of routes in the Northeast area were reconceptualized to improve transportation operations, including consistent morning and evening routing.

Questions or concerns regarding bus stops should be first directed to the main office of the student’s school. Other questions or concerns regarding student transportation may be directed to the BCPS Office of Transportation, between the hours of 6 a.m.-5:30 p.m. at 443-809-4321.

We believe in the long-term, these changes will lead to improved transportation service. And we can make adjustments to address bus overcrowding.

BCPS board member Julie Henn is optimistic that with a new superintendent and leadership team for the transportation office, things will start to get better as the school year moves forward. She said some things already have been fixed, but not enough.

"We have kids who rely on getting to school for their meals in the morning who need breakfasts that our schools serve. It's a big deal. Not to mention the learning that they're missing. You know, a few minutes here and a few minutes there add up and that's learning that's lost. You can't get that back," said Henn.

She said part of the issue is a shortage of bus drivers. She said the county needs to focus on support and retention.

"We need to look at driver pay. We need to look at benefits. We need to look at how we are treating our drivers. I think that's even more important than pay sometimes. Drivers don't feel respected and that's a huge issue," said Henn.

To help solve overcrowding, Henn said she's pushed for more funding for transportation to add bus routes so that the student to seat ratio can be lowered from three in one seat to two in one seat.

"One thing I'd like to do the next legislative session is work with our legislators in Annapolis to see if we can't legislate two to a seat," said Henn.

But more bus routes means more bus drivers and hiring them has been a big issue for the school system. She said she's going to request another increase in funding for the upcoming budget to increase driver pay as well.