Baltimore Co. plots routes through bus budget strain Transit woes force 7:30 a.m. start at 2 schools

September 06, 1993|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,Staff Writer

They may never match their grandparents' tales of mushing four miles to school through hip-deep snows.

But a hardy band of today's high school students can now boast of getting up for the earliest school bell in Baltimore County's memory in order to grab just the kind of education they want.

Classes at the county's two new countywide magnet schools -- the Western School of Technology and Environmental Science, in Catonsville, and the Carver Center for Arts and Technology in Towson -- will begin at 7:30 a.m. starting tomorrow.

That's 15 minutes earlier than the regular senior high schools, and for some of the 750 students involved, it will mean rising before the chickens to meet a school bus miles from their homes.

Patrick Williams, 14, a freshman in Carver's visual arts program, will be rolling out of bed between 5:30 a.m. and 6 a.m. to catch a 6:30 a.m. school bus at Randallstown High School -- which is a 2 1/2 -mile car pool ride from his home.

At day's end, he'll catch a bus back to Woodlawn High School, where his mother works, and wait for her to finish and drive him home.

"It's a very early day, a very long day," said Patrick's father, Barry Williams. "My suggestion to him was, 'When you come home, take a nap.' "

The early bus stops are merely one of many problems in transporting students throughout the county's 690 square miles.

The early stops were forced on the county not only by the bus routes to Western and Carver, but also by budgetary demands. With no money to hire more buses and drivers, the available buses must be scheduled for two or three more morning and afternoon runs after transporting the magnet school students.

But school officials don't think the early hours have hurt the programs at Carver or Western -- they're filled to capacity. Nor do officials think the early hours will impair the students' ability to perform.

"These are really exciting, motivating programs," said Rita Fromm, the county schools' coordinator of transportation. "The kids and their parents are really putting in an effort to take advantage of them."

Mr. Williams said Patrick chose Carver despite the busing headaches. "I think it's going to be a great program. We'll try it for the first year, and if it works, fine. If not, we'll look at other avenues," such as private school or returning to Patrick's home school, Randallstown.

No computers

This year the Office of Transportation also had to find ways to get 3,000 special-needs students to their new schools. The county's new "inclusion" policies required that most of the students from the Chatsworth and White Oak special education schools be bused to dozens of schools closer to their homes, but not always to their neighborhood schools.

"Inclusion was more of a challenge because we had to completely redefine the networking of routes," Miss Fromm said.

Nevertheless, her staff worked out a way to do that, too, without adding buses and drivers.

In all, Baltimore County will bus 64,000 of its 95,800 students to and from their assigned schools this week. Miss Fromm's office plans and coordinates the movements of more than 600 buses and drivers, following about 1,600 individual trips every day.

"And we're not computerized," she said. "It's all done with pencils and paper and pins on a map."

To get students to the countywide magnet schools, Miss Fromm's planners established central pickup points at 17 high schools around the county. The students must get to those pickups -- in some cases as far as five or six miles from their homes -- in time to meet the bus.

For north-county students, the pickup point is at Hereford High School. The bus to Western will need 45 minutes to reach the school in Catonsville by 7:30 a.m., meaning a pickup no later than 6:45 a.m.

"But youngsters in Hereford are used to pretty long bus runs anyway. They can start at 6:30 a.m. to get to their neighborhood high school," Miss Fromm said.

The county's other five magnet programs posed less of a problem, Miss Fromm said.

Students attending the Pre-International Baccalaureate programs at Milford Mill Academy and Kenwood High School, and the Woodlawn High School Center for Pre-Engineering and Student-Conducted Research, will be bused from pickup points in their neighborhoods. But because each serves a more confined geographical area, Miss Fromm said, their rides generally will be shorter.

Most students in those programs -- about 75 percent -- have also been drawn from their home-school populations, she said. "In some cases, we can extend the regular home-school bus runs if the student lives very close." In others, new bus runs have been added.

The Southeastern Technical Magnet School, in Dundalk, and the Eastern Technical High School, in Essex, are serving the same populations they served previously, and required no significant busing changes.

Scarce drivers

Miss Fromm said the most serious problem faced by the Office of Transportation continues to be the scarcity of bus drivers.

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