In an attempt to ease the transportation issues that have disrupted the beginning of Howard County’s school year, Public School System Superintendent Michael Martirano is moving school start times up by about 10 minutes.
The change, which takes effect Sept. 20, will give buses more wiggle room in a tightly orchestrated schedule. When a bus runs late in its first route, the effect can become compounded by the last of its routes. Yellow buses may run several different routes to different schools in a morning or evening shift.
“It has been frustrating to know that thousands of students are experiencing delays that have interrupted instructional time at the beginning of the day and that some students are getting dropped off nearly two hours after their dismissal,” Martirano said in a message to parents Tuesday and announced to the public Wednesday.
He told parents late Thursday afternoon that the last three suspended buses, serving Hammond High, Hammond Middle, Guilford Elementary, Atholton High, Atholton Elementary, Swansfield Elementary and Wilde Lake Middle, will be restored by Sept. 18.
“Using all our bus contractors, all our more than 500 routes will run on Monday,” the superintendent wrote to parents.
In February, the school board voted to change the start times to allow high schoolers a chance to sleep a little later; most high schools started at 8 a.m. under the planned schedule. But Martirano is using his executive power to move the high school start times to 7:50 a.m. Middle schools will be moved earlier as well, from 8:40 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. Elementary students will begin at either 8:45 a.m. or 9:25 a.m., depending on the school they attend.
“I know this is a big ask of families several weeks into the school year,” Martirano said, adding that parents may need to change child care arrangements and work schedules. Schools, he said, would try to be understanding and “accommodating” in the first few days of the change to start and dismissal times.
The changes come as Howard’s school system is trying to recover from a transportation fiasco that started on the first day of the 2023-24 year, when thousands of students didn’t get to school or home on time, and some were never provided transportation. Some of the blame was placed on a new bus contractor, Zum, which has apologized for its failure to provide rides to students on 20 routes the first week. Three bus routes still lack drivers, according to Brian Bassett, a spokesman for the school system.
But driver vacancies have been just part of the issue, according to Martirano, who told parents in his letter that “the biggest issue impacting the ability of bus drivers to deliver students to school in the morning and home in the afternoon on time is insufficient time between our school start times.”
He said buses quickly become delayed at the first schools on their routes because there’s not enough time built into the schedule if there are traffic delays or congestion at drop-off locations in front of schools. “This results in a domino effect, and buses become later and later as they serve additional schools on their routes,” Martirano said.
Howard’s school board policy allows the superintendent to change the start times by 10 minutes without a vote of the school board.
This article has been updated.
Baltimore Banner reporter Kristen Griffith contributed to this article.
This article was corrected to say Wilde Lake Middle was one of the schools the reinstated buses will serve, and not Wilde Lake Elementary.