Howard County Public School System Chief Operating Officer Scott Washington resigned from the district last week, telling the Banner he was taking responsibility for transportation issues that have hampered the start of the school year.
“The failure of transportation is in the area of my responsibilities,” he said in an interview Wednesday. “Because it was in my area that I oversaw, I resigned.”
Washington spent 16 years as an employee of the school system, but had ties to Howard County Public Schools going back to 1998, when he was a project manager for the construction company J. Vinton Schafer & Sons, Inc. The Baltimore City resident would not talk about what went wrong but did say his experience with the school system has been positive and that he wishes them well.
The exit comes on the heels of a chaotic start to the academic year, with a bus driver shortage leading to route cancellations and stranded students, and even calls from parents for the resignation of Superintendent Michael Martirano.
As of Sunday, 11 of the 20 bus routes canceled last week prior to the first day of school due to staffing shortages at Zūm, the district’s newest, Silicon Valley-based bus contractor, were restored. The company reported on Saturday that it hired 30 new certified drivers and would work to get them route-ready over the weekend.
But five additional routes were canceled Tuesday morning, with a text message notifying parents of the abrupt change going out just before 8 a.m.
The message also said that “families of students on those buses should make alternate arrangements.” The routes were canceled because Zūm drivers called out, according to a spokesperson for the school district.
The routes were restored by the afternoon.
A Zūm spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the cancellations. The company has yet to answer several questions sent by The Baltimore Banner last week regarding staffing, hiring and a “significant logjam in the state certification process” that it said has hampered the onboarding of new drivers.
In a message posted over the weekend, Superintendent Michael Martirano warned families that his team anticipated continued bus delays this week. Martirano attributed the delays to “routing challenges,” as well as tighter scheduling that resulted from a decision to push start times for certain schools to later in the morning than in previous years.
As of 9:25 a.m. this morning, the school district reported that 41 buses were experiencing at least a 15-minute delay. At 11:50 a.m., the list was reduced to just two buses.
Some parents and school staff reported delays and other problems to The Baltimore Banner on Tuesday morning. Amy Becker said that her middle school daughter’s bus skipped her stop this morning just like last week, and that a neighbor had to drive the kids to school. A staff member of Wilde Lake Middle School said that many students arrived at school late this morning.
One parent, Curt Francisco, reported improvements in service. Francisco said that his child’s bus showed up a minute early this morning, and that a representative from Zūm reached out to speak with him directly over the weekend.
Washington’s departure was first reported by The Washington Post.
Daniel Zawodny covers transportation for The Baltimore Banner as a corps member with Report For America, a national service organization that places emerging journalists with local newsrooms that cover underreported issues.