Montgomery County School Superintendent Charles M. Bernardo this week recommended a policy that have the effect of reducing by 58 per cent the number of Catholic school students transported by county school buses. The board currently provides busing for some 800 parochial school students.
Bernardo's suggestion was greeted with jeers at a board meeting attended by 300 people, most of whom were advocates of continuing the current busing for private school students.
David Larkin of Silver Spring, executive director of the Maryland Federation of Catholic Laity, tol the board that the suggestion was "like putting your hand in the face of a child and pushing him off the bus . . . We will sit on the back of the bus or we will wear an armband with a crucifix. But we want to ride your buses because those buses are our buses. We paid for them," he shouted as the audience applauded.
Bernado said he recommended the policy which would resut in the reduced busing because "it would ensure that transportation service is provided to all pupils - public and non-pulic - on a fair and equitable basis."
Bernardo said that the current service is inequitable because non-public school students are transported beyond the boundaries of the public schools to which they would be assigned if they went to public school. Such transportation is usually not provided to public school students who attend public school outside of their own areas.
The school board's discussion of the busing question marked the third time three months that the board had plunged into the controversial issue. Once again, however, a decision was delayed. The board declined to act, it was said, because two of its seven members, Elizabeth Spencer and Blair Ewing, were absent.
In examining the question of busing, the board heard Bernardo after four options for busing private school students. Money is a factor in each of the options because it costs the school $100 for each student who is bused - public or private. In addition, the schools lose $74 in state aid for each non-public student bused anywhere and for each public school student bused beyond th boundaries of his assigned school.
While the issue directly affects some 800 students at Catholic schools who are transported by the county school buses, it could affect all public and private school students in the county.
It also could affect the county's voluntary integration program if the board decided that transportation should be provided to students who want to attend schools out oftheir area.
Some administrators fear that if such transportation were available, that white downcounty parents would enroll their children in upcounty public schools which have fewer black children.
Bernardo described four options:
Option One would continue the present practice of allowing non-public school students to be transported beyond the board-adopted service area for pupils regardless of grade level. This plan could have the effect of extending bus service to all secondary and elementary students in the county because, under state law, public and private school students must have equal access to transportation.
Option Two would provide transportation service on the same grade level basis for board-adopted attendance areas. This would have the effect of reducing the number of private school students who are now bused by about 58 per cent, Bernardo said, because many are now bused beyond the boundaries of their area public schools.
Option three would apply the space available concept to all pupils regardless of public or private school attended.
Option Four would have the country budget funds for a separately-operated system. Bernardo said that unless the county used this approach, the state would continue to deduct funds from the county for all non-public school pupils transported.