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February 6, 2007

Valuable Transportation Reporting

Maude Franceschina

Okay, everyone else has weighed in on the mess in Urbana and Windsor Knolls related to school transportation, I might as well, also.

Here is a portion of my personal notes from the Board of Education/Frederick County Public Schools meeting held on January 10. I thought it would be nice to share them before I elaborate further. I had to watch on TV as I had a sick child at home.

Paula Lawton presented the incredibly exciting review of the school calendar which essentially said: "Plan those October vacations, and the kids might attend school some weeks next year with no days off" (I am paraphrasing, of course). I am not really sure what the calendar presentation was about since I fell asleep halfway through.

Board member Leslie Mansfield asked if attendance drops during the week when all of the conferences are scheduled together. Paula said there hasn't been any record of that.

Next up: Transportation.

FCPS finance head Hal Keller opened this part recognizing all of the transportation staff. It is important to be able to recognize each other when you work together. He did a fine job.

Veronica Lowe, the director of transportation for Frederick County Public Schools, came up and read a prepared statement. Then she was sucked into a vacuum, and Mr. Keller handled everything else from there. She makes $104,000 per year. I note that the FCPS minutes are written to indicate she was very involved in the discussion and question and answer session. Not according to my VCR she wasn't.

Mr. Keller introduced the traffic study "consultants" - Richard Blomberg, president of Dunlap and Associates and Walt Brilhart, FCPS consultant. I am prepared to be impressed after an introduction that I expect to be followed by "And the Oscar goes to..."

The first guy, I think it was Mr. Blomberg, spent quite a long time saying virtually nothing. Everyone in the room pretended not to notice. Basically his portion was that everything everywhere is different and there are risks all the time. Everywhere? In the places that are different? And even the ones that are the same?

The other fellow came to the podium. He also said nothing, but I did learn that the most dangerous method of transportation to school is in a car with a sibling driving. I always thought it was by "jet pack."

He mentioned that one of the counties in Maryland has a six page appeal process parents must go through to lodge complaints about transportation. Although I don't think they flashed Superintendent Linda Burgee's face at this point, the excitement this generated was felt even out here in TV land. Or was I imagining this?

No doubt the six page appeal process is coming our way to further delay any action on the part of FCPS.

After a long time of getting no information that was relevant or helpful, Mr. Keller stood up to take questions and to participate in discussion.

He shared that transportation officials only like to adjust walking distances when it is determined that there will be no real impact on the system. That was interesting and was apparently the only reason that distances were adjusted the last time. He also said that childhood obesity is a concern, so walking and "bye-cycling" (a Frederick pronunciation?) would be good to help in this area.

Mrs. Burgee said we really need to "study the map" and BOE President Katie Groth admonished her (go Katie) and said that anyone making walking policy should "actually get out and walk the walk." She pointed out that a two dimensional map doesn't give you a good picture of reality.

Okay, now to the present.

I am curious as to why collecting information from within the school systems of Maryland (comparing walking distances, etc.) takes an outside consultant with all of the "talent" and "expertise" we keep paying (and paying and paying) for in FCPS.

Wouldn't the state superintendent's office be able to supply walking distances by county within Maryland school districts? Better yet, don't the transportation directors for each county have some sort of working relationship that enables benchmarking?

You would think that someone at FCPS could send out an email to all transportation directors requesting walking radius information for their counties. That would take about five minutes.

This "comprehensive" transportation report, according to Mr. Keller, was "never intended to address our specific concerns." Can someone please explain why, then, we paid Mr. Blomberg for a report that is available on line? Just google 'Blomberg Special Report 269' and read it for yourself.

In that report you will also find the data that clearly indicates that the children are at much greater risk walking than on a bus, but evidently FCPS and the BOE are willing to risk some children's lives. After all, that's just part of the human condition, some kids are evidently meant to be hit by cars and buses and backhoes.

I wonder if the special "comprehensive study" might have included a study of pedestrian and bike accidents involving school aged children in neighborhoods that are still dangerous construction zones? They probably didn't think of that. Maybe it was too specific to our needs.

The next meeting is scheduled for February 14. Do not for one moment think it is an accident that the meeting is planned for Valentine's Day. The last thing they want is a full house. I am certain that there will not be a review of the graphs presented in Special Report 269, which clearly indicate that children are much safer on a bus than walking or riding in a car.

Well, fellow citizens, if you care about our kids, about our school system and about the dreadful and nearly criminal waste of taxpayer dollars and the complete disregard for our children's safety by those who purport to conduct a "first class" operation, then put off those Valentine's Day gatherings and come to the meeting on the 14th at Hayward Road from 6:00-7:30 PM. Make public comment, even if short and sweet.

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