The head of transportation for Howard County schools is scheduled to retire this week and begin work on a special state committee tasked with overhauling Baltimore's troubled special education system.
Glenn Johnson, 59, will oversee transportation for the city's roughly 15,000 students with disabilities. He said his primary goals include reducing the number of taxis used to shuttle students and improving the accuracy of records about where the children live.
"I'd like to be a part of at least getting the kids in the building on time," said Johnson, who worked more than two decades in the Howard system.
In Baltimore, he will be stepping into a long-running battle between city and state officials over how best to manage the ailing school system. One of the chief problems, according to the Maryland State Department of Education, is that many students with disabilities in the past school year failed to receive legally required services such as transportation, therapy and counseling.
A U.S. District Court judge recently ordered the State Education Department, city schools and other parties in the case to assess the management of special education programs. So state officials hired nine experts, including Johnson, to help administer the city's special education program. The effort is expected to last five years and cost $1.4 million annually.
City officials have bristled at the idea of what they say amounts to a state takeover of their special education program. Johnson said he is hoping to work as a team with his city schools counterpart.
"I'm not taking over. It's a matter of getting things in place," he said. "We can get done what needs to be done."
Johnson started his career as a substitute teacher in Prince George's County. When he returned to school to get a master's degree in education supervision and administration, he drove a county school bus in his down time to make extra money.
Soon, he was teaching driver training courses in Prince George's. In 1982, he became an area transportation supervisor in Howard. By 1989, he was named director of transportation.
When Johnson started working in Howard, the county had about 224 school buses. Recently, Johnson has been keeping track of 415 buses that carry 37,500 students to and from 72 schools every day. The remainder of the students either walk or have their own transportation.
Johnson said his job is "almost like a 24/7 position." During bad weather -- whether thunderstorms or snow -- he has been out driving on the roads and checking the latest weather updates at all hours of the morning and night.
In April, Johnson and his wife bought a condominium in Sarasota, Fla., in the hopes of spending this winter there. It was to be the first time that the longtime school employee would be able to go away for the winter.
Now those plans will have to wait. State officials have asked him to stay in Baltimore for two years, although Johnson said he would rather work no longer than a year. In the meantime, he hopes to spend a long weekend or two in Sarasota.
Staff writer Nick Anderson contributed to this report.