Findings in an audit of transportation at Prince George’s County Public Schools, presented in the school board meeting on Thursday, Feb. 22, showed that the district has a number of bussing issues to address in the upcoming school year.

The PGCPS Board of Education met at the end of February in Upper Marlboro to discuss the budget proposal for fiscal year (FY) 2025. Superintendent Millard House II introduced the proposal last Dec. 18, calling for a total of $2.835 billion in spending on items like student mental health services, food services and capital outlay. This number is only a slight increase from the current fiscal year’s budget of $2.811 billion.

The board unanimously approved the proposed budget toward the end of the meeting. 

Hyattsville parent Patrick Paschall, who spoke during the public comment period, accused the board of sweeping the transportation issues under the rug, despite — Paschall stated — his family submitting dozens of complaints and receiving no meaningful response for months.

“My son’s bus has gotten him to school 30 minutes or more late every day for over 100 days,” Paschall said. “That’s totaling more than 50 hours of missed instruction for him and his classmates.”

With late or missing buses, more students are arriving in cars, which causes its own problems.

“It’s very, very, very congested,” Rayne Rivera-Forbes, the student member of the school board, said about the morning traffic. “And I’m sure many parents and members on their way to work can agree that it is hard to get through traffic.” 

Rivera-Forbes, who was elected by Prince George’s Regional Association of Student Governments, said that although she and her brother attend two different PGCPS schools that are right next to each other, they do not arrive at their respective schools at the same time.

The audit suggests carpool apps for schools where “parent car traffic has become a burden on school curbside operations or to local neighborhoods.”

House commissioned the audit of the district’s bus system, which began in September 2023. Chief Operating Officer Charoscar Coleman and Director of Transportation Keba Baldwin presented the audit’s findings and recommendations during the meeting.

“As Superintendent House just outlined, his 90-day plan acknowledged that our school district has faced persistent challenges in the area of student transportation,” Coleman said. 

Key findings of the audit included a high number of trips that are not assigned to specific vehicles, too many schools with the earliest start time – 7:45 – and unfilled seats, as well as understaffed buses.

The audit recommends moving many school start times later, so that more buses can drop off one group of kids and go back and pick up another set. According to the audit, this could eliminate up to 119 buses and save $16.9 million annually.

Other recommendations included making distances between bus stops and homes longer for older children and implementing a codified “opt-out” policy for students who do not wish to use the buses.

Rivera-Forbes said she was glad to see the district working to solve its transportation troubles. 

“I got to speak with the auditors, so that was an amazing experience for me, alongside other students,” Rivera-Forbes said after the audit presentation. “And I’m happy to see that a lot of the advice we were giving, the recommendations we were giving as students, were taken into consideration and prioritized.”

School board member Pamela Boozer-Strother (District 3), whose district includes Hyattsville, said this is not the first time the school district has analyzed busing problems and found that staggering school start times would help.

“I have compared this to the December 21, 2011, audit, and let’s be honest, we’ve been talking about the bell times in many task forces on transportation for years,” Boozer-Strother said in the meeting. “This district has been unwilling to change them because every school community has a reason why they think their bell time shouldn’t change.”

The idea behind staggered bell schedules is that the same drivers could drop off one busload of students at one school and then pick up another load for a different school, thus preventing an influx of traffic.

Boozer-Strother also said that the board’s vision was to better spend the money allocated for student transportation rather than to save money on transportation. 

The proposed county schools budget spending plan calls for a slight decrease in transportation spending from FY 2024 to FY 2025, from $145 million to $140 million. The budget would slightly reduce the number of drivers, and slightly increase the number of dispatchers and those in support roles.