Prince George’s County Public Schools is still trying to figure out what it will do with its busing service after a letter from the Maryland attorney general’s office said it was illegal to ask parents to pay to bus their kids to magnet programs outside of neighborhood boundaries.

Del. Jolene Ivey, D.-Dist. 47, requested that the attorney general’s office conduct a study on whether or not charging for busing was legal after receiving complaints from parents. Bonnie A. Kirkland, assistant attorney general, conducted the study and responded with a letter detailing why the policy went against current state law.

“The General Assembly has not authorized the imposition of fees for transporting students to school,” Kirkland wrote. “It has authorized the county governing bodies, at their own expense, to provide transportation for public school student sin addition to the transportation provided by the state.

“Thus, it is my view that without authorization from the General Assembly, no county, including Prince George’s has the power to impose a charge for transportation public school students to and from school,” she continued.

However, Kirkland stopped short of saying that law couldn’t be changed in the future. The letter also cited cases from around the country that stated “transportation was not an educational activity” and charging fees for busing didn’t violate free school guarantees.

Kirkland said “if such a bill were enacted by the General Assembly, the Attorney General would not recommend a veto on constitutional grounds, particularly if special provision was made for indigent and disabled children.”

For the time being, though, current state law creates a problem for the school board and Prince George’s County Council, which is currently in possession of the budget. Both parties have said their intention is to do everything in their power to minimize the impact of the reduced budget on classrooms.

“My priority and responsibility to this community is to request a budget that provides our students with the support and resources they need to succeed so that we can continue the academic gains of the past several years,” PGCPS Superintendent William Hite said in a statement. “While our goal is to ‘hold the classroom harmless,’ additional cuts to the budget may impact successful academic programs and resources. “

The people really upset about imposing fees or the possible elimination of busing for magnet programs are those directly involved—parents, teachers and students. The elimination of transportation options could effectively kill some of these programs, which supporters say are among the most successful in the county.

“People all over the country know of our program,” said Jean Fadiga, a music teacher with Suitland High School’s Visual and Performing Arts program. “They sang for President Obama’s inauguration. They sang for ‘Christmas in Washington,’ Ted Turner’s television program, this year under the auspices of the president and for the previous administration under President and Mrs. Bush.

“Our choir has one numerous awards, international competitions and they’re well known,” she continued. “Our students have the highest GPA at Suitland High School. They’re actually pulling the school up.”

 

George Barnette

Special to the AFRO