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Baltimore County

‘Just ridiculous’: Baltimore County Council calls for accountability on late school buses, blocks routine funding transfer in show of frustration

Members of the Baltimore County Council railed against school officials at a Monday night meeting, saying there has been no accountability for issues such as late buses.

In a show of frustration, the council voted 5-2 to turn down the county schools’ request for a funding transfer. Such shifts within the budget are usually a routine matter, but council members used the opportunity to express disappointment in how school system leaders have responded to problems.

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Council members said they’re inundated with complaints from parents about late school buses due to the county’s shortage of drivers, and that top officials including Superintendent Darryl L. Williams have ignored their concerns. Williams was not at the meeting.

“Parents are too maxed out,” said Councilman Tom Quirk, an Oella Democrat. “Parents are just trying to get by. Especially working families that cannot just take two to three hours off from work every day because the bus comes 45 minutes late or doesn’t even show up.”

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The situation is “just ridiculous,” said Councilwoman Cathy Bevins, a Middle River Democrat.

“Parents can’t go to work every day and not know if their children are going to be picked up,” she said. “Parents can’t afford to have somebody on call to get their child if there’s not a bus.”

Quirk and Bevins said there’s been a lack of communication from Williams to the council on both problems and positive developments, such as new schools.

“I don’t know what the vision of the superintendent is, if there is one,” Bevins said.

Councilman Wade Kach said the school system by far represents the largest portion of the county budget, but council members don’t get answers to their questions.

“There’s got to be some new direction coming from our school system,” the Cockeysville Republican said. “This isn’t working.”

Christopher Hartlove, the school system’s chief financial officer, told the council that he heard their frustrations.

“I do see folks working on trying to fix these problems,” he said.

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School officials wanted the council’s approval to shift nearly $33 million in leftover funds that were allocated for areas including student transportation, teacher salaries and special education. The money was left unspent because of a high number of vacancies, and administrators wanted to move the money to areas including maintenance, textbooks and administration.

Council Chairman Julian Jones of Woodstock and Councilman Izzy Patoka of Pikesville, both Democrats, voted to allow the budget transfer. Bevins, Quirk and Kach — as well as Republicans Todd Crandell of Dundalk and David Marks of Perry Hall — voted it down.

“We are frustrated and want action,” Marks said after the meeting, adding that 10 buses were late at Perry Hall Middle School on Monday. “I did not take this vote lightly … We’re trying to send a message that we need reforms.”

Jones said he didn’t think the council should block the budget transfer to send a message.

“I understand that everybody’s frustrated,” Jones said. But “we have clearly given a message. And now let us not … use the funding to send a message when the message has already been sent and it’s loud and clear.”

Asked for comment about the council meeting, a county schools spokesman pointed to a letter that Williams sent to Jones last week addressing what steps administrators are taking to address the bus driver shortage. They include holding recruitment events, boosting hourly pay, and providing bonuses and referral incentives.

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“We know the Council shares our commitment to supporting BCPS students and staff, and we look forward to working collaboratively to address vital system needs,” schools spokesman Charles Herndon said in an email to The Baltimore Sun.


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