School started for 22 of Maryland’s 24 public school districts last Tuesday, the day after Labor Day, and scattered reports of bus drivers who don’t know their routes or miss their pick-ups have come in, as they do most years. But the Kent County Public Schools contracted with a Baltimore-based, i.e., non-local, bus transportation company just this year, and at least one school board member there says the level of service being provided is unacceptable.
“The delivery of services we received this week was not the deal, you know,” the Easton Star-Democrat quoted school board President Trish McGee as saying. “And that has to change. … I need to hear what’s going on. I need to hear why. And I need to hear how this is going to be corrected because it’s not acceptable.”
On the other side of this issue is Reliable Transportation, and the contract the district made with Reliable is expected to save the district about $1 million over four years. The company is leasing space in an old bowling alley in Queen Anne’s County for its operation base, and some drivers are local. But some of the drivers are also from Baltimore, and although the company conducted dry runs of the bus routes before school started, more practice was apparently needed.
Kent County delayed schools by 90 minutes last Friday, September 8, just to accommodate new bus drivers unfamiliar with roads and stops, WBOC-TV reported.
“Everybody is in an uproar over this,” the station quoted one parent as saying. He said buses sometimes just never show up, forcing him to take his kids to school himself. “It’s frustrating—I’ve missed three days of work already this week.”
He told the station that members of the community would be willing to help out-of-town drivers with the routes. “Just ask,” he said.
But other reports say members of the community have accosted bus drivers, sometimes boarding buses in a hostile manner or telling African-American drivers to go back to Baltimore, ostensibly because they’re ‘not from here.’
“If the information I have received that, again, is coming secondhand, is true, about the way some of the bus drivers have been treated, I’m embarrassed for Kent County,” the Star-Democrat quoted Ms McGee as saying. “I’m embarrassed and I’m appalled. And it makes me sick actually to think that we would treat people that don’t look like us or aren’t from here—that we would treat people like that.”
There’s also been some misinformation floating around about Reliable’s buses and drivers. One rumor, for instance, which the paper debunked, is that the buses being used weren’t certified for use within the state. Some missing pieces of equipment, such as a strobe light and stop arm, required by the district but not by the state, are expected to be installed on the buses, with the district picking up the cost for parts and Reliable paying for the labor. But the buses, the district said, are in compliance with state requirements.