The Howard County Board of Education discussed the following items at its June 28 meeting. For more information, call 992-0500.
SCHOOL BUS OWNERSHIP -- The board postponed for at least a year a decision on a proposal that the school system buy and operate some school buses, a service now provided by private contractors. Board members said the existing bus system will meet school transportation needs through the 1990-91 school year, making the creation of a dual private-public system unnecessary for now.
Opposition from private bus contractors, who say the proposed private ownership of some buses would unfairly deprive them of revenue, played a part in the board's decision, school spokesperson Patti Vierkant said.
According to a transportation consultant's report, the school system could save as much as $1.7 million over the next 10 years by buying and operating 40 additional buses that will be needed to meet soaring enrollment in county schools. The proposal calls for the school system to acquire seven school buses during the 1990-91 school year and an unspecified number of additional buses in subsequent years.
Owning the buses would enable the school system to reduce transportation costs in a variety of ways, according to the consultant. An existing county-owned garage, for example, could be used for maintenance and repair of the buses. The school system would save on fuel costs because government agencies are exempt from federal and state fuel taxes. As the school system's fleet of buses expanded, additional money would be saved by buying fuel and equipment at bulk rates.
But the approximately 58 private contractors who provide bus service to county schools say the consultant's findings were wrong, and that the current system is economical and meets school transportation needs. The contractors point out that they have served the growing school system well for many years, and question whether school staffers with little transportation experience could run a bus service as well as they do.
The board has not ruled out buying school buses. The proposal may be reintroduced if contractors cannot meet transportation needs, board members said. Also, the school system could hire additional private contractors from outside the county, board members said, though no formal proposal on that option has been made.
Howard County has one of the largest privately contracted school bus services in the state, with 333 buses employed to transport 23,200 students daily.
SCHOOL RENAMING -- The board voted 5 to 0 to change the name of Whiskey Bottom Road Elementary School in North Laurel to Laurel Woods Elementary School, beginning in September.
A campaign by some fifth graders unhappy with the school's name prompted the recommendation. The fifth graders told the board recently that students at other schools laugh at the name Whiskey Bottom, and that the word "whiskey" is inappropriate in a school name. Students said they picked the name Laurel Woods because the school is in North Laurel and because the woods surrounding the school are filled with laurel plants.
The school was named Whiskey Bottom Road Elementary when it opened in 1972. The name was derived from an old wagon trail along which casks of whiskey were hauled, according to newspaper accounts of the school board meeting at which the name was chosen.