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Superintendent Remarks from the August 30, 2023 Transportation Press Conference

August 30th, 2023

The following statement was issued by HCPSS Superintendent Dr. Michael Martirano on August 30, 2023:

I want to begin by speaking directly to families and students. I acknowledge the hardships you have faced and as I stated on Monday morning, I apologize for the transportation challenges you have experienced. It is not lost on me that as we start the year talking about the importance of attendance, that Howard County failed as a school system to provide on-time, reliable transportation to many of our students.

I am thankful for our school administrators, teachers and staff who have done a phenomenal job overcoming these transportation challenges, welcoming students into classrooms, and creating supportive environments to begin the school year.

Many of our families and students are upset, angry, and frustrated. And rightfully so. I share in your frustration and anger because quite frankly, I know we can do better – and we will.

I know that many superintendents in Maryland and in America are struggling with the issue of student transportation and contending with the ongoing bus driver shortages. However, we are working to rectify the failures that Howard County students and families experienced this week.

System Response

This was a system failure and we are laser-focused to make sure we get this right. I have pulled in our deputy superintendent, all of our division chiefs and have asked our former Director of Transportation to step in to provide leadership and coordination as we address this.

I have spent the last two and a half days working with very little pause to overcome this transportation crisis. We are reviewing each individual route to troubleshoot and provide service that is consistent with what families are expecting of us.

Today is day 3 of the school year and the reports I have received from this morning have demonstrated that we are seeing gradual improvements.


I am glad we are starting to see some improvements and I am focused on getting us back on track so these challenges don’t persist during what promises to be an excellent school year. On Monday, our student attendance rate was 95% and on Tuesday it was 96% – both above last year’s annual average of 93.5% and that is a testament to our parents and students who have not let the transportation challenges get in the way of starting this school year.

Start Times

This year we were able to adjust school start times to provide students with the extra sleep they need to ensure they are able to come to school ready and able to learn. On April 15th, 2021, the Board of Education directed me to review and evaluate the school start times and prepare a recommendation regarding new start times for submission to the Board of Education. The Board voted on this change February 23, 2023.

Avoidable Errors

For the last six months, I have met weekly with our transportation and operations team to receive updates on our implementation timeline and strategies to mitigate the impact of the driver shortages and how we would prepare for the start of the school year. Unfortunately, I am extremely disappointed that there were errors that could have been mitigated and were not. These include:

Combined, these challenges led to our students, families and staff needing to make many adjustments.

Driver Vacancies

As we implemented new start times, we also knew that operating with 85–95 driver vacancies like we did the last several years was not a sustainable model to provide transportation as the new schedules would not allow for “double-backs.” So while we could manage in the past with a high number of vacancies, we can no longer do that which is why the 20 last-minute vacancies this week has led to the temporary – and I do say temporary – suspension of those bus routes. One of our contractors, Zum, has indicated they have many candidates in the pipeline who are going through training to obtain their commercial driver’s license or CDL.

Additionally, to recruit and retain drivers, Zum has informed us they are providing an additional $500 a week bonus for drivers who go four weeks without an absence as well as an $8,000 incentive for candidates that apply and already have their CDL certification.*

Addressing Challenges

I want to assure our community that we are addressing these challenges head-on.

On Monday, my senior leadership team and I worked overnight to make route adjustments and identify our many failure points in order to implement any possible solutions for Tuesday. Due to the last-minute driver no-shows, we notified the community that 20 routes would be suspended temporarily, impacting transportation service for over 2,400 students.

We had bus drivers report to their lots an hour early and put signs in their windows to match the bus numbers provided to families. On Tuesday, we saw improvements but they still fell short of acceptable.

Over the course of the day on Tuesday, we made additional changes, including:

Overnight on Tuesday, staff worked to update and ensure that all routing information on buses matched up with what our families have, and their paper back-ups in case of technology and connectivity issues on the buses.

Some of these adjustments have made an impact based on data from this morning. Only about a quarter of our buses arrived late this morning, compared to most of our buses arriving late to their school on Monday. I am encouraged by this positive shift and must acknowledge that the first two weeks of the school year does bring evergreen challenges as drivers adjust to their new routes and traffic patterns.

I will be monitoring this daily during each bus run. We have also had some no-show buses which we are investigating to understand those reasons and will work with our contractors to address today.

More Actions

There are several actions I am taking to address continuing issues both in the short and long-term to ensure this does not continue:

Compressed Schedules

Finally, there is very little slack in the schedule as we compressed all school openings between 8:00 am and 9:15am. We are reviewing data from each bus shift to determine if some minor adjustments to school start and end times will help us address some of the timing issues causing buses to be late.


I want to end with this – I am incredibly proud of the resilience our students have demonstrated this week. The first week of school can be a very difficult transition for students and they have handled this extra burden so well. I am extremely pleased with our student attendance rate considering the obstacles they have had to overcome to get to school.

As a grandfather of two young children in school, and as a school administrator for many years, I know the trust parents and guardians place in us to take care of their babies. This is very personal to me. This week has not been acceptable and we will leave no stone unturned until our transportation system is corrected and working the way our students and families deserve.

Again, thank you students, staff and families for your patience, grace, and resilience when faced with the unexpected and undeserved obstacles you have faced this week.

*CORRECTION to an earlier version that mistakenly said Zum would provide additional $500 a week bonus for drivers who go a month without an absence, as well as an $8,000 incentive once a trainee completes their CDL certification.