A much-anticipated meeting between Calvert’s commissioners and school board took place Thursday, Sept. 9, as part of the latter panel’s monthly meeting.
Among the topics discussed was establishing a strategy for budgeting funds the county hopes to receive as a result of the state legislature’s passage of the Kirwan education bill. The measure survived a veto by Gov. Larry Hogan (R) and it mandates public school and local government officials work together on an implementation plan.
During a meeting earlier this summer with Superintendent Daniel Curry, the commissioners rejected the recommendation of the school board to support the appointment of administrator Kevin Michael as the “blueprint” implementation coordinator for the county. The commissioners instead indicated support for Mark Willis, county administrator, to serve in that role.
One area where the sides agreed is the need for forming a work group.
“This is going to be a huge financial change,” said Commissioner Mike Hart (R), who added that the maintaining of the county’s AAA bond rating “is extremely important. It [Kirwan] is going to change the way we do business.”
Hart recalled county government officials meeting with bond raters and being told Calvert’s “funding formula” for public education was “aggressive.” The commissioner recalled telling the raters that county officials wanted to make sure its school teachers were well-paid, indicating it was a better investment than having to constantly recruit.
With a state-approved implementation plan, Calvert County is expected to be allocated an additional $7.1 million for the current fiscal year.
Commissioner President Earl F. “Buddy” Hance (R) noted that state officials have established a Kirwan work group so that should also be done at the local level. Hance stated the group should be a mix of citizens and educators.
School board president Inez Claggett proposed a group of 11 members. The work group’s meetings would be open to the public.
Claggett stated the school board wanted the person who will be reporting to the state on the work group’s progress to be a school system employee.
“I think we can agree to that,” said Hance, adding, “I have no problem with Mr. Michael being the liaison.”
“We will welcome all working together,” said school board member Dawn Balinski.
In a memo to the commissioners dated Sept. 10, Linda Vassallo, deputy county administrator, stated if the board does formally establish the work group, the volunteer positions would need to be advertised.
Driver shortage discussed
The commissioners were briefed on Calvert’s ongoing bus driver shortage. Curry said Calvert was currently 16 drivers short with about 13 individuals currently in bus driver classes.
In answer to the commissioners’ questions, Anthony Navarro, executive director of administration, explained school bus drivers are employees of local contractors and thus do not receive their salaries and benefits through the school system. There are 23 bus contractors in Calvert and currently there are 150 drivers.
However, bus aides are school system employees and are members of the support staff union, Navarro explained.
In answer to questions from Commissioner Christopher J. Gadway (R), Navarro said it takes several weeks for a bus driver to earn certification.
“They have to pass a written test and pass a test in Annapolis for a commercial driver’s license,” Navarro said.
Some parents are trying to spare their children from the long rides in often overcrowded buses by driving students to school.
That situation has created traffic jams in several school parking lots.
“We don’t really have any walkable schools,” said Curry, adding that Calvert’s school system has always planned for transporting all students to county schools.
Balinski added that many parents are taking advantage of the bus app that is available for tracking school buses. Parents who want to access the “Here Comes the Bus” app can do so through the school system’s website.