As Howard County schools continue to struggle with canceled bus routes caused by problems with a new bus contractor, the member of the superintendent’s cabinet who oversees transportation is no longer employed by the system.
Communications Director Brian Bassett confirmed Wednesday the recent exit of Scott Washington as chief operating officer of the county’s public school system, saying he “no longer works for HCPSS.” Bassett also said Washington’s position had oversight of the county’s Student Transportation Office.
Bassett did not answer questions about whether Washington resigned or was terminated from his post, and did not say how long Washington was employed by HCPSS. Washington’s name was removed this week from the school system’s organizational chart and from the website that describes each member of Superintendent Michael Martirano’s cabinet and its functions.
Former school board chair Vicky Cutroneo, whose term on the board ended in December, said Washington leaves big shoes to fill. Washington weathered issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic, redistricting, and last year’s transportation challenges as COO, and Cutroneo said he never abandoned his job during the school system’s past hardships.
“I have tremendous respect for Mr. Washington,” Cutroneo said.
The COO is also in charge of overseeing school construction and the system’s capital budget. The school board is set to start deliberations on the fiscal 2025 budget during a meeting Thursday night.
In December, Washington told a Baltimore Sun Media reporter that an ongoing bus driver shortage would likely be a major variable in the school system’s ability to change school start times.
“There’s still some uncertainty around that because you just don’t know how that market is going to go,” Washington said in December.
Despite a shortage of about 85 drivers last school year, HCPSS had managed to maintain transportation service through the use of “double backs,” in which drivers pick up and drop off students on one route before returning to pick up a second group on an entirely different route. The possibility for double backs were eliminated when the county school board decided to change bell times this school year, pushing them later for student health benefits.
Howard County Times: Top stories
Washington’s exit comes as the school system continues to grapple with student transportation woes that began with the first day of school on Aug. 28, when at least 27 county schools experienced major busing delays. Six of those schools reported that at least one bus never showed up to take students to class. On Aug. 29, new bus contractor Zum Services canceled 54 bus routes and parents of students at 34 elementary, middle and high schools were told they would have to find another way to get their kids to and from school until further notice.
On Wednesday, many schools continued to report late bus arrivals in the mornings, and delayed departures from school buildings in the afternoons, according to emails sent via the SchoolMessenger service. Eight routes remained “temporarily canceled” as of Wednesday, due to driver shortages at Zum.
The school system has agreements with 21 bus contractors to provide service on 503 routes this fall. Zum Services, based in California, has 230 routes; Tip Top Transportation, based in Elkridge, has 58. The 19 other contractors based in the region split the remaining 215 routes.
Howard County school board member Robyn Scates said Zum, which started serving Howard County schools this academic year, was not doing the job that the school system has paid them millions of dollars to do.
“The board voted on a contractor, agreed with it, and the contractor didn’t do their job,” Scates said during a Board of Education meeting Aug. 31.
Reporters Ethan Ehrenhaft and Thomas Goodwin Smith contributed to this story.