The Prince George's County Board of Education's 7-to-1 vote last week to send the question of busing to a citizens advisory committee marks the first time in more than a year than the board has been able to agree on even a preliminary step toward resolving the thorny issue.
The board told the advisory committee to study ways to reduce "busing for desegregation" and make recommendations by Feb. 1.
During the last year, board members have fought bitterly over how to curtail busing. The board has placed itself at odds with segments of the county's black community who question whether any cutback in busing should be made.
Each day about 80,000 students are bused to school in compliance with a federal court order issued almost seven years ago. Last year the school board spent $14 million in transportation costs, a figure that many board members say they would like to reduce.
Some members say busing has contributed to an economic and social decline in the county, and has led to the flight of whites from the school system.
At last week's meeting, Bonnie F. Johns, the only black board member, voted against establishing the advisory committee calling it "one-dimensional . . . a smokescreen directing attention away from the problems of desegregation as well as successful ways of desegregating."
Unlike the other board members, Johns did not make three allotted appointments to the committee because of her opposition to its task.
While agreeing to allow the committee to study busing and make recommendations, the board stated that it will not be bound by those recommendations.
"The purpose of this committee is to allow people out there to learn something and possibly to come back to the board with things it (the board) can learn," said board vive chariman Jo Ann T. Bell, one of the strongest advocates of the advisory committee.
Last February Board Chairman Norman H. Saunders and William R. Martin, then president of the county NAACP, secretly negotiated a plan that would have ended virtually all busing of school children living in integrated neighborhoods.
But the plan, which also would have permitted some county schools to become all black, collapsed under heavy fire from other NAACP leaders.