BOE candidates talk about busing safety

February 05, 2008|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- Each of the nine candidates vying for four open seats on the Washington County Board of Education was asked the following question:

What safeguards do you think should be in place to make sure that children make it home safely on Washington County Public Schools' school buses?

Name: Donna Brightman
Age: 56
Hometown: Southern Washington County

Prior political experience: Brightman was appointed to the Board of Education in May 2007 to fill a vacancy. She ran unsuccessfully in the 2006 general election for a Washington County Commissioner post.

Brightman said that while she cannot speak about any specific "bus issue," it is important that policy, procedures, guidelines and training constantly be reviewed.


"Anytime something doesn't go exactly the way we would like it to go, we should look at what we're doing," she said. "Is it adequate? If not, then change it."

When transporting about 18,000 students twice each day, and with buses traveling more than 2.7 million miles each year, safety is the top priority, Brightman said.

"It's an important job, and we do take it seriously," she said. "We need to regain the confidence of the public that we are on the job and doing everything we can."

Name: Jacqueline B. Fischer
Age: 62
Hometown: Clear Spring

Prior political experience: Fischer served on the Washington County Board of Education from 2002-06. She lost her bid for re-election in the 2006 general election.

Fischer said the cell phones each bus driver has in the school buses should be used.

"I think those cell phones need to be used whenever there is an occurrence, such as a student getting on the wrong bus," she said.

Drivers also should have a list of phone numbers of parents or guardians for each student on the school bus. When something goes wrong, Fischer said, the bus driver could use his or her cell phone to call the student's parents.

"A contact can be made so the appropriate arrangements can be made for the child to be delivered or picked up," she said. "The communication is the answer."

Name: W. Edward Forrest
Age: 44
Hometown: Hagerstown

Prior political experience: Forrest served on the Board of Education from 2000-07. He ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the Washington County Commissioners in 2006.

Forrest said the school system transports thousands of students daily, making safety a top priority.

The most recent school system data estimates that about 18,000 students are transported on school buses twice each day.

Forrest said a change might be necessary.

"It may not be overly popular, but I think that the obligation of the transportation system is to get a child from home or a day-care provider to school and back."

Sometimes, he said, parents have their children ride a different bus to get to a play date or another location. When this happens, parents send a note to school that states that their child is to ride a different bus.

Forrest said some school systems use tracking data to account for students coming on and getting off school buses. These systems do carry a "price tag," though, he said.

"Overall, I think the system does a great job of getting students to and from school," Forrest said.

Name: Meredith Fouche
Age: 56
Hometown: Sharpsburg

Prior political experience: Fouche was a candidate for the Board of Education in 1988, but did not make it past the primary. He ran again in 1992 as a write-in candidate, but was not elected. He ran in 1990 for Washington County Commissioner, but withdrew before the election.

Fouche said he has been told by Washington County Public Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan that every bus driver has a manifest of children that are supposed to ride each school bus.

The bus driver is to check those students off when they get off at their bus stops, Fouche said.

"Apparently, that has not been sufficient in all cases," he said. "So we need to look at steps to improve that or change that."

Name: Justin M. Hartings
Age: 36
Hometown: Keedysville

Prior political experience: None

Hartings said transporting children safely on Washington County Public Schools school buses is a "massive undertaking."

"Some go to three or four different locations, depending on what day it is," he said. "When dealing with 500 or 600 kids at larger schools, I'm surprised they are as successful as they are."

Hartings said officials could eliminate the risk of dropping a student off at the wrong bus stop by telling parents that children will be taken to only one location after school.

"I think that would make things safer," Hartings said. "But I don't think that's a trade-off that the school system wants to make."

He also suggested arranging the bus schedule so there is not as much of a rush for drivers to get from one school to the next. That's more time, he said, that teachers and administrators could use to ensure that every child is on the right bus.

"And it would give drivers a little more time to make sure they are getting each child where the child needs to go," Hartings said.

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