BEL AIR, Md. — Harford County Public Schools is planning substantial changes to its transportation system for the upcoming school year in response to a $20.2 million budget shortfall.
Four transportation changes were approved last month when the board of education approved the fiscal year 2014 operating budget, and officials said the changes will save the district approximately $890,000.
The changes will take effect Aug. 26, and they include: four new elementary schools added to the fourth tier schedule, elimination of previously approved exemptions to the Harford County Public Schools transportation policy, depot bus stops established for magnet school students, and consolidated bus stops established for both middle and high school bus routes.
“While my board colleagues and I lamented on approving changes to these services that have been provided for our students for many years,” board President Rick Grambo said, “we have arrived at a point where cost-saving strategies are necessary to begin making improvements to our budget picture that will affect generations of students for years to come.”
For the four elementary schools that have been added to the fourth tier schedule, the school day will start at 9:30 a.m., and students will be dismissed at 4 p.m.
Officials said the four schools were selected using specific criteria, such as number of available buses in surrounding schools, timing and proximity. By modifying the school day for these four schools, buses will be able to service more schools, decreasing the number of total buses necessary and eliminating costs associated with the extra buses, such as fuel, maintenance and personnel costs, according to the district.
Harford County Public Schools is also eliminating waivers and exceptions to its transportation policy. Board policy states that elementary students who live within a one-mile radius of school and secondary students who live within a one-and-a-half-mile radius of school are not eligible for transportation service. For many years, waivers and exceptions to this policy were granted, but now it will stop.
By taking this step and reducing the number of riders in close proximity, the district was able to further reduce the number of buses needed. Criteria that are used to determine non-service areas in all other schools were applied to these cases, and the exemptions were lifted.
Additionally, a depot stop system has been established for all students enrolled in the Science and Mathematics Academy at Aberdeen High School, the Global Studies Program/International Baccalaureate Program at Edgewood High School, and the Natural Resources and Agricultural Science Program at North Harford High School.
The depot stop system incorporates the designation of several sites throughout the county where buses will pick up and drop off students when transporting them to their magnet program. Each magnet student’s home high school will now serve as the designated depot stop. Transportation to and from the depot site to the child’s home will be the responsibility of the parent/guardian.
Officials said it is up to the parent/guardian to determine the appropriate means by which their student will arrive to and return home from the depot location. Many surrounding school districts utilize shopping center parking lots and recreation areas as depot locations, but Harford County Public Schools feels that the safest practice is to have students wait for their bus on district property.
Officials also said that as a result of the creation of depot stops, students will now be spending less time on buses for transport to and from school throughout the county.
Another change is the reconfiguration of middle and high school bus routes to decrease the number of stops and the length of routes where possible in order to reduce the cost of completing a bus run.
Harford County Public Schools officials said that bus routes are still being finalized for the 2013-14 school year. The routes, as well as bus stop locations, pickup and drop-off times and bus numbers, will be posted on the school system’s website as soon as they are available.