Bid to allow private school students use of public school buses stirs debate

January 31, 1993|By Carol L. Bowers | Carol L. Bowers,Staff Writer

Using public school buses to transport children to private schools would be a logistical nightmare that could add as much as $1.2 million to the school budget, Harford school administrators say.

But Kathy Casey, a spokeswoman for a group of parents whose children attend private schools, says it's the county's duty to give parents a choice between sending their children to private or public schools.

"We're not asking them to educate our children," said Mrs. Casey, whose two children attend separate private schools.

"We're asking for the ability to make a choice," she said. "There are many parents who can't send their children to private school simply because they can't provide the transportation."

Noting that St. Margaret's, St. Joan of Arc and John Carroll High School also have expressed an interest in having public bus service for students, Mrs. Casey took her argument to the state delegates and senators from Harford County. The state would have to first give its permission for the program before the county government could decide whether to offer the service.

Harford's five state delegates are scheduled to vote Friday on whether they will support such legislation. Twelve counties now have enabling legislation to use public school buses to transport private school students, but only eight counties -- including Howard and Montgomery -- do so.

In discussions Friday, it was clear that the delegates were leaning toward creating a bill that would limit the distance within which private school students could be bused. But if the bill is introduced and passed, it would still be up to the county to determine whether to offer the new service.

"I think it would only make sense that the routes coincide with the existing public bus routes," said Del. Mary Louise Preis, D-District 34, and chairwoman of the county delegation.

She and other delegates favored drafting a bill that would, for example, allow private school students who live within the Bel Air Elementary School district to travel to school on buses with public school students.

Although Harford's state senators do not vote at the delegation meetings, Sen. Habern W. Freeman Jr., D-District 34, said even by limiting bus routes "the logistics of this thing [are] overwhelming."

County school administrators have opposed providing any form of bus service to private school students, saying it could become "a real headache."

Just trying to get elementary, middle and high school students ++ to their respective schools within a certain time frame is already difficult, said Paul Welch, supervisor of transportation for Harford's Board of Education.

"I'm concerned about what we'd be opening up. What if a child who now attends Norrisville Elementary wants to attend a Christian school in Joppatowne?" Mr. Welch said. "The logistics of moving these youngsters is immense."

He also noted that parents whose children now walk to school also "would be asking, 'Why don't you provide buses for our children?' And they'd be right."

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