Below is my June 24 letter to the editor of the Capital expressing my concern about transferring much-needed (and already approved) additional transportation staff over to mental health staff.
The recent Board of Education vote to request that seven previously-approved transportation positions be converted to mental health staff positions is deeply disappointing and unacceptable.
Of course, mental health support is important. But presenting a choice between mental health positions and transportation positions is a flawed strategy. And here’s why: Gaining seven transportation positions came only after the recommendations of three state audits; years of parental complaints; a study by Prismatic Services, Inc. (an outside consultant hired by the school board); and a follow-up board workshop. Prismatic identified $2.8 million in potential savings from proper management of the Anne Arundel County Public Schools transportation department, more than enough money to support additional mental health staff.
Now the board has reversed its position, giving county schools permission to continue a decades-long pattern of waste, mismanagement, and lack of contractor oversight of its transportation system. This board decision is also an equity issue, which as a parent I have witnessed.
As a result of a mismanaged school transportation system, buses often arrive early, late, or not at all at bus stops, and schools are required to start at times that are deemed unhealthy by medical experts. Moreover, for students without private transportation, an erratic bus schedule can mean missing a day of school. And when activity buses are unavailable, then only students with private transportation may meet with teachers after school or participate in extra-curricular activities.
School leadership still fails to recognize that providing reliable, safe, and properly managed transportation is essential to educating all children and closing all gaps. Holding the superintendent and his staff accountable for competent management of the transportation department is critical for meeting the physical and mental health needs of students. I implore the school board to do so.
Joanna Bache Tobin