Council members hold 'bake sale for buses' after bus pass snafu

Councilmembers held a bake sale to raise money after a bus pass snafu.

With an array of brownies, Rice Krispies treats, cinnamon rolls and chocolate chip cookies, several Baltimore City Council members said they were taking a stand against a bureaucracy that was keeping students from being able to take the bus home for free following after-school activities.

"Bake Sale for Buses," held Thursday afternoon at Frederick Douglass High School, was intended to help raise about $100,000 to buy bus passes for Baltimore schoolchildren who need rides home after attending after-school activities.

Until this school year, students could ride Maryland Transit Administration buses for free from 5 a.m. till 8 p.m. The school system and MTA reached an agreement this year that ended the hours that students can ride MTA buses for free at 6 p.m.

Critics have said the change leaves thousands of students unable to get home and keeps students from engaging in after-school activities.

The bake sale drew council members including Zeke Cohen, Ryan Dorsey, Mary Pat Clarke and Kristerfer Burnett.

Cohen, a former teacher who helped organize the event, said he used to run an after-school program that didn't end until 6:30 p.m.

"A lot of these programs are the only safe place our kids have," Cohen said. "They're nurturing, they help people grow, and so to take that away has been devastating. I've been very disappointed that our governor has not stepped up to the plate. We, the city of Baltimore, were promised a partnership, but yet here we are having to bake for our buses."

A spokesman for Gov. Larry Hogan did not respond to a request for comment Thursday evening. Schools spokeswoman Edie House-Foster said that the district pays for MTA passes for students attending after-school activities in their schools but has not yet identified a funding source to buy passes for students who attend after-school activities in locations other than their schools.

"The new contract is a safety issue for as many as 1,000 students daily who are now unable to travel from their out of school activities to home," she said in an email. "We hope the MTA will acknowledge the real transportation needs of our students engaged in off campus after school activities, such as jobs and non-profit programs, in the next contract to allow them to travel safely after 6 p.m."

The MTA has said it created a process for the school system to provide bus fare for after-school programs, but that the school system needed to find a way to get the passes into the hands of students.

"MDOT's MTA remains committed to providing transit for students from 5 AM to 10 PM on weekdays and on weekends for school-related activities approved by Baltimore City Public Schools," MTA Senior Director Ryan Nawrocki said in a statement.

Melissa Jakes, a co-founder of STOMP, or Striving to Overcome Minority Perceptions, an after-school step group that formed last summer, said the change has made it difficult to attract students. They lost a contract with the Y to run the program because not enough students were attending, she said. Jakes sold strawberry cake cookies, cinnamon rolls, and peanut butter and white chocolate pretzels at the sale.

"When kids have nothing else to do after school, they start getting into trouble, so putting them into positive activities definitely works," Jakes said.

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