Parochial school parents whose children ride public school buses appealed to the school board Thursday to spare their children longer rides, dangerous highway crossings and bus stops too far to walk.
Board members sympathized but reminded parents of the $12.4 million in cuts to the $200.8 million budget that Superintendent Michael E. Hickey introduced in December.
"Our hearts go out to you on this," board member Ruth Y. Hutchinson told the parents Thursday, but she said the budget contains no extra money.
Parents wanted at least part of the money restored afterbudget cuts forced school transportation officials to halve bus service at four of the five county parochial schools that receive public school bus service. The fifth, St. Augustine School in Elkridge, was reduced from three to two bus trips.
The public school officials must provide transportation for an estimated 660 non-public school students this year on a budget of $166,980, about $100,000 less than the1990-1991 allocation. In January, the board decided to limit parochial school transportation costs to the public school average, $253 perstudent.
"We really thought this county would come up with some ways to allocate additional funds," said Bradley Maunz, chairman of the parents association of St. Louis School, Clarksville.
More than 80 percent of the approximately 250 St. Louis students ride public school buses. When parents learned that service would be cut to four bus trips, they designed routes for five buses and lobbied for the additional service.
Parent committees from Our Lady of Perpetual Help and Resurrection-St. Paul schools, both in Ellicott City, have been meeting with transportation supervisors to work out bus stops, and some stops have been changed at parents' requests.
Claire Flaherty has already felt the impact of a bus stop change.
Last school year, the Ellicott City mother provided before-and-after-school day care totwo public and two Catholic school students. Each morning, she took the children to the same bus stop at Town & Country Boulevard and West Springs Drive, where they were picked up by separate buses.
Thisschool year, she would have had three Catholic and two public schoolchildren in day care. But when parents of the Catholic school children assessed the problems posed by the new bus stop at Town & Country Boulevard and Route 99, they sought other day care for their children.
Flaherty dosen't blame them. "It is a very dangerous intersection. Nobody ever stops all at once," she said. She said a service station where she might have parked and waited for the bus closed recently.
Flaherty said parents feared their children would miss the bus to Resurrection-St. Paul. If she stays with the public school childrenuntil their bus comes to the West Springs Drive stop, she will have just four minutes to get to the stop at Route 99. She doesn't think she can make it.
"I could leave them, but I won't" she said. "If they moved it (the Catholic school bus stop) back up here, at least it wouldn'ta be at the traffic light, and I'd watch everybody's kids."
Robert S. Lazarewicz, director of operations for the school system,said the Route 99 stop was added at the request of Resurrection-St. Paul's parent association. Before the stop was added, the students would have had to meet the bus at the High Ridge Road intersection, he said.
Resurrection-St. Paul parent association leaders praised county school transportation staff members for trying to meet their safety concerns.
"Dwight Stull (assistant transportation supervisor) has been more than accommodating with the money he has to deal with," said Elizabeth Coolahan, wife of James Coolahan, Resurrection-St. Paul's parent association president.
When Ressurection-St. Paul parents questioned the safety of a proposed bus stop, at Jehovah's Witnesses Kingdom Hall on a section of Centennial Lane that is being widenedand straightened, Stull agreed to move the stop to Burnside Drive.
Despite the transportation staff's efforts to accommodate parents' needs, Lazarewicz readily concedes that some parents may have to drive their children to bus stops.
School board member Susan J. Cook said she didn't like bus stops where children would have to cross U.S.40, U.S. 29 or Route 32. Lazarewicz replied that parents are responsible for insuring their children's safety at bus stops.
"Quite frankly, it won't be possible for students to walk to (some) bus stops,"he said.
Elizabeth Sokol, whose two daughters are in fourth and seventh grades at Our Lady of Perpetual Help, is trying to cope with the problem of having children cross a heavily traveled road. Her family lives at the end of Avoca Avenue, one mile from the bus stop at the intersection of the avenue and Montgomery Road.
Sokol, a registered nurse, said that if she changed to a day shift, she would have toarrange for someone to drive the girls to the bus stop in the morning. She now works in the evening and must find a way to get them home from school.