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‘Avoidable errors’: Why Howard County’s school buses failed in the first week of school

Howard County schools Superintendent Michael Martirano announced on Wednesday that the 54 bus routes canceled by Zum Services earlier this week are expected to be fully restored by the end of next week. This comes as a response to the disruptions caused by school bus driver shortages in Howard County, Maryland.

Zum spokesperson Jenny Mayfield revealed that the driver shortages were primarily due to challenges the California-based company faced during the state certification process. Mayfield stated that Zum is actively addressing this issue by recruiting, training, and certifying new drivers daily. The company has also brought in fully trained and certified drivers from other Zum locations to provide temporary coverage.

In an effort to mitigate the impact of the shortages, Howard County schools took measures such as flying in around 70 bus drivers from Seattle and Spokane, Washington. These drivers were initially intended as backup support, but the cancellations prompted their deployment.

The canceled routes, serving more than 2,400 students across 34 elementary, middle, and high schools, created a need for parents to arrange alternative transportation for their children since Tuesday, the second day of school.

Superintendent Martirano acknowledged several avoidable errors that occurred during this period. These included ineffective communication with schools and families, inadequate preemptive troubleshooting, discrepancies in bus numbers provided to families, and numerous issues related to data, technology, and routing. He described these events as a system failure and expressed the determination to address these challenges effectively.

Despite the challenges, Martirano noted some positive improvements on the third day of school. Only a quarter of buses arrived late on Wednesday morning, a notable improvement compared to the earlier days. He attributed some of these delays to the adjustment period for drivers to new routes and traffic patterns.

Martirano assured parents and students that efforts were being made to rectify the situation. He emphasized the commitment to providing reliable transportation services and acknowledged the frustration experienced by families. He stated, “I share in your frustration and anger because quite frankly, I know we can do better — and we will.”

To enhance transportation services, the school system is providing drivers with both paper and electronic route guidance. Additionally, an HCPSS staff member will monitor and report bus arrivals and departures at each school. Special education, dual enrollment, and career academy students’ transportation routes will receive real-time troubleshooting and resource deployment as required by individualized education plans.

Martirano also revealed plans for a comprehensive audit of the HCPSS student transportation office. Area transportation managers will meet twice daily with community superintendents, and a designated communications office staff member will support transportation-related communications on a daily basis.

Furthermore, Martirano announced that former Director of Transportation David Ramsay will assist in operations. He also intends to meet with Zum’s top leaders in person to address any shortcomings and ensure a more efficient functioning of the transportation services.

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