The Prince George's school board is sticking to a controversial cost-savings plan to end door-to-door busing of magnet school students, saying the new system can be worked out by the time school starts in the fall.
At its meeting tomorrow night, the school board likely will hear a mouthful from parents who are upset about the plan to save $2 million by picking up the county's 12,000 magnet schools students at "cluster stops." Since the plan was unveiled June 17, parents have been complaining loudly that it is inconvenient and potentially dangerous.
The decision to end 14 years of door-to-door busing was approved as part of a package of cuts to help pay for a boost in teacher pay and other incentives. Similar centralized pickups have been used for years in Montgomery County; Prince George's is seeking to replicate that plan.
When parents learned of the plan last week, in a letter sent to homes by the school system's transportation office, many called the school board to complain. More than 300 telephone calls were logged at the office of Kenneth Savoid, school transportation director.
The parents said they will be forced to scramble to make arrangements when new bus schedules are released Aug. 15. They complained that the change was made too late in the year to allow them time to get their children enrolled in private school or move to another school district.
Board members say the transportation department sent out the letters prematurely and without enough explanation. They say a complete plan should be worked out that includes parents' suggestions about the location of new cluster stops. This, they believe, should lessen parents' frustration.
"I assumed that transportation people would be coordinating various communities to gain input from them as to the best way it should be handled," said James E. Henderson (Seabrook), head of the school board's budget committee. "In Greenbelt, we're trying to formulate a more centralized pickup point such as the community center. What I encouraged is for communities to get together and work with the transportation people in coordinating and planning."
Board member Robert J. Callahan (Bowie) said the transportation office told the board that cluster stops could be worked out in a safe, orderly plan, but he said he hasn't seen a plan yet.
"The board wants to know from the transportation office why the letter went out so soon, without a plan developed," he said. "We still haven't been assured that transportation for magnet students has been properly refitted or reworked."
Parents say that dropping off their children at centralized stops is inconvenient because it will conflict with work or day-care schedules. And they said that allowing their children to walk to the stops or be dropped off early poses a safety risk.
Dozens of parents are expected to attend tomorrow's meeting, wearing turquoise ribbons in a show of solidarity. Several e-mails circulating among parent organizations urged parents to bring their children to tomorrow night's board meeting, and many parents are planning to do so.
"I'm bringing my children," said Cynthia Mason-Posey, a Prince George's Community College administrator and mother of two daughters who attend Middleton Valley Academy in Camp Springs. "We are trying to teach children about the democratic process and how decisions are made. I have an 11-year-old and an 8-year-old, and I think they need to see it.
"But more importantly, I think the board members need to look their little constituents in the eye as they make these decisions," Mason-Posey said.
Parents said they are informing one another because the school board did not provide adequate notice or information that the magnet busing program was in danger. The plan was "proposed, moved and passed" the same night, without a public hearing to solicit parents' input, said Russell Butler, president of the Prince George's County Montessori Advocacy Group Network.
Mason-Posey, who has published Middleton's newsletter for two years and has established one of several computerized mailing lists for parents about the current debate, said there was no information on the plan posted on the school system's Web site.
But school board Chairman Alvin Thornton (Suitland) said the board is not reconsidering the new plan.
"There were other programs cut that were just as important," Thornton said. "Every effort will be made at the transportation level to ease the adjustment parents must make."