Magnet school students in Prince George's County would still be transported to class from bus stops close to home--not more centralized collection points--under a proposal by new Superintendent Iris T. Metts that would reverse a controversial school board policy.
The board voted last month to end the practice of picking up the 11,000 students in front of their homes, directing that students make their way to "cluster stops," such as community centers or schools. That would save $2 million annually in transportation costs, which the board wants to use for pay raises and other needs.
Hundreds of parents argued that the new system would be inconvenient and potentially unsafe and was being implemented too quickly. After meeting with more than a dozen parents, Metts has now largely agreed, proposing that most students be picked up, not at cluster stops, but at the corner nearest their homes and that some who live in remote areas retain front-door service.
Her plan would save only a fraction of the $2 million, but Metts said she would try to save money by reorganizing staff and eliminating as many as 150 positions.
Her transportation plan will be presented to the board later this month. School board member James E. Henderson (Seabrook) said he will support it--if Metts can show how she intends to save money other ways.
"But I don't know where she'll find the other money," Henderson said. "I hope she'll do this in concert with the board. If she's finding more money, I'd like to see more money put back into some of the other cuts the board made."
Magnet schools usually specialize in a subject, and they attract many students who live considerable distances and must take buses. Metts said that a task force will study longer-term ways to cut transportation costs and that she might be willing to adopt a cluster-stop system for magnet students in the future.
"The board directed me to work this out," she said. "I think I can find some money to supplement a slower rate of change [for magnet busing], and in the long run, we'll save more money and have a more effective system."
In catering to the parents, Metts said, she is trying to show that the school system is receptive to the community and willing to work as a partner.
"We're in the business of serving students and parents, and we want to be responsive," Metts said.
Her decision to only slightly modify the current transportation system was hailed by parents, a group seen by most school officials as crucial to the effort to improve the troubled 128,000-student system. Metts is trying to recruit 10,000 volunteers to mentor students, and many parents said they appreciated Metts's apparent willingness to listen.
"It was extremely important, not only that she had us there but also how she reacted to our input," said Jack Bailer, the leader of one of the county's largest parent groups. "She seemed very receptive and interested in trying to take to heart and translate into action many of our ideas."
Metts said she also intends to set up a parent hot line to answer questions about where any new bus stops will be located and will post the stops on the school system's Web site.