Prince George's County schools' citizens advisory committee on busing, confused and angered by the school board's refusal to authorize a study of busing patterns the committee asked for, this week briefly considered resigning en masse.
In a meeting in Upper Marlboro, the committee heard an hour-long tape of the board's deliberations last week, and then discussed a motion to disband and to file no report with the Board of Education. The motion failed, and the committee agreed to split up into three groups to study ways of creating some form of neighborhood school system for northern, central and southern areas of the county.
Before the meeting ended, however, two of the committee's 27 members resigned and several others voiced serious doubts about the school board's willingness to modify the county's seven-year-old busing plan.
The advisory committee, appointed by the board last fall, is the latest in a series of school board attempts in two years to reduce busing in the county's 120,000-student system without resegregating the schools.
This week's meeting came in the aftermath of a Board of Education decision last week not to allow the public school staff to study busing patterns and devise a plan that would require that each elementary school be between 20 and 80 percent black, that students be bused no more than 30 minutes, and that underutilized schools falling outside the 20-to-80 percent criterion be closed. u
An earlier study requested by the committee and authorized by the school board found that the number of schools with pupils of only one race would increase dramatically if the county instituted neighborhood elementary schools.
After school board attorney Paul Nussbaum argued that the schools should not go on record as supporting any specific racial percentages in elementary schools and several members objected to the idea of closing schools, the board decided not to authorize the new study requested by the advisory committee.
The action enraged and confused some members of the advisory committee.
"This is typical of the board on this issue because the board is very deeply divided on this whole very emotional problem of busing," said Emerson Markham, chairman of the advisory committee. "But it seems to me that it should have gone without saying that we needed the staff information to come to any decision."
Some committee members said they felt betrayed.
"I can see the writing on the wall, "said JoAnn Brown, president of the County Council of PTAs and a committee member. "We've been handcuffed and they've thrown away the key."
"We were appointed because the board was too weak to make a decision," member James Garrett told the committee. "Now we can't do our job, and I think the best service we can do for the county is to resign en masse and let the board take the heat."
Garrett's motion for mass resignation failed by a large margin, but Garrett and another member quit in protest.
Afterwards, the group decided to break up into subcommittees representing northern, central and southern Prince George's and come up with plans to reduce busing in each of the three regions. The committee could not agree on guidelines for drafting the plans, but did not rule out using percentages or closing schools.
"I don't see where the board has to know how we go about our job of reducing busing," said committee member Robert Alcock. "It's our responsibility and we shouldn't have to go back to them every time we hold a meeting."
If all goes according to schedule, the committee will hold three more meetings this month before filing a report with the board of education March 1. the school board will then review and make a decision on that report.