IE 11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

Howard County, Md., Schools Reviewing Bus Service Software Failure

The Howard County Public School System has contracted with an outside firm to investigate what happened last August when 20 bus routes were cancelled, leaving more than 2,400 students at 34 schools without transportation.

A long row of parked yellow school buses.
(TNS) — An external review of student transportation in the Howard County Public School System is under way, including an analysis of what caused a system failure on the first day of this school year.

The school system signed a $99,733 contract with Prismatic Services Inc., a consulting firm based in Charlotte, North Carolina, in January for the transportation review, according to the school system.

“Now that the dust has settled and we can look at the data in a dispassionate way, we can help provide a better answer to what really were the root causes on day one, and the lessons learned from that should help the transportation department continue to improve,” Prismatic President Tatia Prieto told the Howard school board on April 25.

On the second day of school, Aug. 29, 20 bus routes contracted to service 54 runs were cancelled, leaving more than 2,400 students at 34 elementary, middle and high schools without transportation. The final routes were restored on Sept. 18, nearly three weeks later.

The company’s investigation will collect information about the start of the school year and operations leading up to it, Prieto said, adding that Prismatic is on track to complete a final report by July.

The review builds upon the system’s internal action review, completed in November, and its internal audit, completed in March, school system internal auditor David Clark said on April 25.

“The subtext of the question, ‘What went wrong with day one?’ is: ‘Is it still going wrong?’ And for that, we have people on the ground to observe bus operations in the morning and in the afternoon,” Prieto said.

Thus far Prismatic has interviewed all school board members, held 34 interviews with district staff, spoken with representatives from five bus contractors, visited a bus lot, and conducted nine transportation observations, Prieto said.

“We are chewing through the data we’ve collected and coming up with new questions,” Prieto said. “Both the interviews and data analyses activities may bring up some additional data requests and additional questions.”

A survey for principals and other relevant administrators issued on April 29 is likely to be productive, Prieto said, as those staff are typically outspoken and direct in expressing their concerns.

Prieto said bus drivers and contractors may be interviewed directly if Prismatic deems it prudent, but parents, students and families are not likely to be involved in the review.

“We’ve decided that a contractor survey is probably appropriate,” Prieto said, “because we have some pretty explicit questions about day one that we’ve refined, listening to them and the staff, and then we might follow up with some additional telephone interviews with them. The bus contractor lot that we went to was chosen for us; essentially we went to the biggest and did have a couple interactions there.”

Prismatic is also analyzing transportation data. Prieto said reviewing GPS data is particularly time intensive. Accuracy is also a concern in reviewing transportation data, she added.

“In terms of data accuracy, we’ve had some discussions about what the transportation department has concerns regarding, which is potentially known data issues,” Prieto said. “It’s not that we’re being provided inaccurate data, they know they had some issues with some data, so we had some good discussions about that. I think it’s a good sign that they are aware of those issues and working through them, so we’ll try to account for that as we go through the data.”

Board of Education member Robyn Scates asked on April 25 if any of the school system’s transportation technologies were found to be outdated, underperforming or otherwise problematic.

Prieto said routing software is not as sophisticated as people often assume; the district uses older software that is due for an update in a few years. The school system last fall filled an open position in transportation data analysis, Prieto said, which she expects to benefit the department going forward.

It is evident that the system has been working to address mistakes and that staff have learned from initial analyses, Prieto said. The information presented to the school board does not constitute Prismatic’s formal review, but rather Prieto’s initial thoughts, she added.

“The bigger thing that we’re bringing to the table is we know how the operation should operate and can be able to help point out where things did go awry, or where there are blind spots,” Prieto told the school board on April 25.

©2024 Baltimore Sun. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.