- The Washington Times - Friday, September 1, 2000

The first week of the new school year is almost complete in Prince George's County, Md., and the snarls over bus routes and drivers are being quelled as school-day routines develop.

"Things went well today," said Antonio Liberatore, assistant superintendent of Prince George's public schools.

"We've been able to make the necessary adjustments."

Other Washington area schools begin Tuesday. Busing officials for those school districts expressed confidence again yesterday that there will be enough drivers to handle the routes efficiently.

"We'd still like to hire more substitutes, but we're fine and ready to go," said Margaret Stevens, spokeswoman for Arlington County (Va.) schools.

"We're all set," said Paul Regnier, coordinator of the communications office for Fairfax County (Va.) schools, the largest publicly held bus system in the nation.

The same confidence is expressed about buses and drivers for Montgomery County (Md.) public schools.

"We'd still like to get 25 to 30 more substitutes," said spokeswoman Kate Harrison.

The biggest problem still faces the District of Columbia school system, which provides busing only for special-education students. Because a contract with a private contractor was terminated in June, the D.C. system still needed 200 drivers a week ago.

Now, the system needs 100 drivers, according to Denise Tann, director of communications for D.C. schools. The routes will be consolidated and some drivers will double up on assignments while hiring continues until vacancies are filled.

The first week's blemishes in Prince George's County came when a substitute driver got lost Monday evening and delivered a first-grade boy to his worried mother about four hours late. The mother said the boy is scared to ride the bus now.

Wednesday, a number of parents in the John Carroll Elementary School district southwest of Glenarden complained that buses were not picking up their children as they had in past years. They wrote a protest to Superintendent Iris T. Metts.

Mr. Liberatore is contacting those parents to explain why they were not notified that buses weren't running on those routes this year.

All routes and bus stops are reviewed every year, Mr. Liberatore said. The most recent review indicated that many of the Carroll stops were within 1.5 miles of the school, the distance not ordinarily served by buses and which students are expected to walk.

A letter announcing that buses would not stop at those locations this new school year was sent to the Carroll principal. But that principal was replaced by a new principal and the announcement was not distributed to parents, Mr. Liberatore said.

"We will be making another review," Mr. Liberatore said.

Prince George's is still short 50 to 100 bus drivers, and many drivers are doing double runs, Mr. Liberatore said.

"But we've got a classroom full of [driver] candidates," he said, adding that they could possibly begin service in about a week.

"We will continue recruiting," Mr. Liberatore said, explaining that recruitment may become perpetual because of constant departures of drivers who become sick, retire, move or change jobs.

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