Anne Arundel County Public Schools anticipates having between 45 and 50 bus driver vacancies when school year starts in late August, similar to where the system ended the previous school year, interim Superintendent Monique Jackson told the Board of Education Wednesday.
Thousands of students last year were affected by late bus service, and in many cases had no bus service at all. The disruptions were caused by a driver shortage, which AACPS says is a national problem. The system has been working with contractors to fill empty jobs.
Each Wednesday the system will post updates on its website about the status of bus drivers, crossing guards and other openings that they are desperate to fill, along with information on waitlists for Recreation and Parks child care programs. Jackson said challenges like the driver shortage are out of their control, but that doesn’t mean they can’t do anything.
“What is not outside of our control is the ability of every single school system employee, elected officials and community members to ask themselves whether they or someone they know can help,” she said.
For drivers and crossing guards, AACPS isn’t directly hiring to fill vacancies. The system hires a number of private contractors to provide bus service, and those businesses are recruiting. The Anne Arundel County Police Department runs the crossing guard program and handles its staffing.
The school system continues to speak with the bus contractors and will have a more accurate number of vacancies in the coming weeks, Jackson said.
Some board members sought to hold an additional meeting before Aug. 19, to get more details on how many drivers and crossing guards will be out on the first day of classes. The board was evenly split on the vote for a special August meeting, so the motion failed.
The board’s next meeting is scheduled for Aug. 24.
When the new school year starts on Aug. 29, the system will implement new start times. All high schools will start at 8:30 a.m., elementary schools will open at 8 a.m. and middle schools will open at 9:15 a.m. Overall, the window to pick up and drop off students has been condensed, but the system said the time change is not exacerbating driver vacancies.
The system adjusted start times to better align class schedules with adolescent sleep patterns, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics and approved by the Anne Arundel County Board of Education.
Parents testified Wednesday asking the board to delay the start time changes, which has created child care issues for parents. Last month, the Anne Arundel County Council approved a resolution in June urging similar action.
District 7 school board member Michelle Corkadel said south county is a child care desert and in need of more direct support ahead of the change. She also said the change is forcing some parents to choose between jobs and taking care of kids.
“The few places we had child care are gone — they’re not returning,” she said.
Regarding crossing guards staffing, District 3 member Corine Frank said the board doesn’t know how many intersections will be uncovered, but in June they were told more than 100.
The Evening Sun
“That in my mind is imperative to be addressed. And I don’t want to wait a week before school starts,” she said.
In voting against the proposal to add an August board meeting, District 5 member Dana Schallheim said reversing the time change at this stage would be difficult because tens of thousands of families have already made adjustments, along with businesses and employees.
“Yes, there are challenges. But there would be challenges if we stayed with the status quo too,” Schallheim said.
District 4 board member Melissa Ellis said the board will continue to receive updates on transportation issues before the start of the school year, and can call a special session at any point if those updates reveal significant concerns. A special meeting would raise the expectation of a major action, which would be irresponsible, she said.
“If I have a light bulb, something the board can do to support this work, I’m going to reach out to Dr. Tobin and request a special session, and I encourage any of my colleagues to do the same,” she said. “But right now we need to not get in the way.”