Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman is urging the school board to delay a change in school start times scheduled to begin Aug. 29 because of staffing concerns.
In the most recent school year, a shortage of bus drivers resulted in thousands of students receiving late bus service, or none at all. The school system said contractors who own the buses and hire drivers are facing a shortage due to COVID and more competitive job offers from other employers.
As of July 20, there were 72 vacancies among bus drivers, out of more than 600 routes, according to Anne Arundel County Public Schools. The system is posting weekly updates on its website, with the next update scheduled for Wednesday.
In June, the County Council approved a resolution urging a delay in the start time change, citing concerns from bus contractors and the public.
At a news conference Tuesday, Pittman said the time change from a 7:30 a.m. school start to 8:30 a.m. would compress the window in which buses drop off and pick up students.
“Drivers won’t be able to drive as many routes, so they are going to need additional drivers on top of the ones they have needed in the past,” Pittman said.
The Board of Education approved the new school start times last year that align with medical experts’ recommendations for children and adolescents to ensure they are getting enough sleep.
Studies, like one from the American Academy of Pediatrics, show adjusting start times and allowing kids to get more sleep can improve students health, academic performance and quality of life.
Pittman’s spokesperson Jeff Amoros said Tuesday that Pittman sent a letter requesting a delay to Board of Education President Joanna Tobin on May 21. Pittman discussed his request for a delay for the first time publicly on Tuesday, Amoros said.
In his letter, Pittman asked Tobin to consider if a one-year delay on implementing the time change would be best for students, staff and the public.
“I do respect the Board of Education’s authority to manage the school system, including its start times and scheduling, but hope that you will thoroughly consider the question of whether one more year for employers to restore staffing levels, and for your institution to install new leadership, might in the long run leave our children, our parents, our workforce and our county in a stronger position,” Pittman wrote in the letter provided by Amoros.
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In addition, Pittman is urging residents to consider taking a job driving a school bus, noting that the county’s Workforce Development Corporation offers no-cost training.
“We need to get the word out,” Pittman said. “We need to let people know that this is a good way to serve the kids and the people of Anne Arundel County, to drive these buses.”
He said he is asking the school board to delay the change for a year not only because of the driver shortage, but because of similar shortages of child care workers and crossing guards. County Recreation and Parks provides before- and after-school care at schools across the county but is struggling to keep up with demand. Pittman said there were 1,174 kids on the wait list last year. This year, that number is more than 2,370.
“We are in the process of trying to hire 100 child care workers through Rec and Parks,” he said.
At their most recent hiring event, only 12 candidates came, and eight hires were made, Pittman said, noting that it was not as successful as he had hoped.
He said his administration’s economic development team will work with the business community to try to establish more child care centers in the county, but that is a long-term goal.
“We have a long way to go,” he said. “This is something our families really need.”