By Elaina Moradi and Brianna Stranieri
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writers
An estimated 40 parents and school staff members showed up at the Baltimore County Board of Education Tuesday night to voice their concerns about the safety of the school bus system and other issues.
Baltimore County resident Michael Fahey, who has been a school bus driver for 11 years and is the president of Council 434 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, told the school board that he was afraid that the number of accidents may increase because the county is not properly training new hires.
The board made no public statement in response to Fahey’s concerns.
“They [school officials] don’t care,” Fahey said in an interview. “They’re hiring trainee bus drivers. They’re pushing out experienced drivers and when you have someone that doesn’t have experience they’re going to have accidents. I guarantee you the number of accidents will go up.”
Baltimore County public schools have 881 busses that transport over 70,000 students to and from school every day. They cover over 70,000 miles around Baltimore County each day, according to the BCPS website.
In addition, the school system spent more than $66 million on transportation in the 2017 fiscal year, according to the school budget document.
Fahey, who spoke on behalf of bus drivers, also said he had concerns about the system used to keep track of children on the bus.
“I don’t have a list of kids that’s on my bus so I don’t know where they’re getting off,” Fahey said. “Kindergarten and Pre-k, if they don’t know where to get off I have no idea. I don’t have a list of who is on that bus.”
While the number of bus routes and students riding Baltimore County busses increase, the number of bus drivers has decreased due to cuts in the transportation department, according to Fahey.
“I’m going to bed and I get a call saying, ‘We’re missing a child.’ Well, I knew he wasn’t on the bus,” Fahey continued. “Do you think I got much sleep that night? I don’t know where these kids are getting off. What kind of arrangement is that?”
Sharon Saroff, who introduced herself as a BCPS special needs advocate, expressed her concerns for bus safety to the board and later in an interview.
“The special needs buses are being combined with regular buses,” she said. It’s just overcrowded and unsafe.”
One parent also expressed her frustrations with how the transportation system was being run.
“They don’t clean the buses,” said Dayana Bergman, the mother of a Lansdowne student. “It’s hard to report things to the sanitation department because they say they’re always backed up.”
Bergman said she was also concerned with the school’s record keeping system after trying to locate her son’s records after he had been suspended from the bus two years ago.
“If you suspend a child from transportation, by law, that report has to go in the child’s discipline section of their permanent record,” Bergman said. “If it’s not there, the county can get in a lot of trouble and when I went to find my son’s incident report it wasn’t there. So I still have no clue what the incident was.”
Parents can get in contact with the BCPS transportation department by visiting the school system’s web page at bcps.org.
“I’m going to keep contacting the transportation advocacy group,” Bergman said. “These are our children and when I have a problem with something I have no problem calling them out until it’s fixed.”