Thursday, August 23, 2012

MDUSD may overhaul transportation and special education programs

By Theresa Harrington

Through a Public Records Act request, I have received several emails and documents from the Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team (FCMAT) related to the Mt. Diablo school district’s contract for two studies:

1) providing findings and recommendations related to the district’s transportation programs; and
2) providing a review of the district’s special education program.

As noted in recent blog posts, these findings and recommendations have not yet been presented to the school board or the public. However, the district sent a June 20 letter to parents informing them of transportation changes it claimed were recommended by FCMAT.

I have previously pointed out that some of the ideas for these changes came from the district itself, instead of from FCMAT. This came to light after Superintendent Steven Lawrence inadvertently sent me a copy of FCMAT’s draft transportation report, which did not directly support some of the changes being implemented by the district.

After Lawrence sent me that report, he followed up with an email saying that he expected the final report to be presented to the board Aug. 13. Subsequently, the Aug. 13 meeting was postponed to Aug. 20 (tonight), because two trustees were unavailable last Monday.

Contrary to Lawrence’s assurance, however, no FCMAT reports appear on tonight’s agenda. Instead, the board will consider three transportation-related staff recommendations, without any backup material from FCMAT.
The first is a contract for nearly $1.7 million to transport 132 Non Public School and County students to and from school. Neither the staff report nor the contract reveal to the board or the public how many students are in-district, how many travel outside the district or how many use wheelchairs.

According to the contract, the district pays $40 per day for ambulatory students sharing rides within the district; $120 for students in wheelchairs within the district; $70 per day for ambulatory students sharing rides outside the district, and $140 per day for students in wheelchairs traveling outside the district. In addition, the district may pay $25 per hour for ambulatory students and $40 per hour for students in wheelchairs. The board and public deserve to see a breakdown of these costs. Absent such a breakdown, it appears that the district intends to spend an average of $12,743 per student per year on this contract.

The second transportation-related item is a $307,500.00 contract with AA Med Trans to transport 24 medically fragile students. This averages $12,812 per student per year — or about $69.50 more per year per student than the Pawar charges.

Although FCMAT specifically addressed outside transportation contracts in its draft transportation report, the district is not presenting FCMAT’s findings and recommendations.

Here is what the report said: “…the district should closely evaluate the need for a third-party transportation provider. This transportation is generally provided in a one-on-one fashion and may be less efficient than transportation on a school bus.”

In addition, FCMAT recommended: “…improve transportation request forms and checklists and cluster stops for students who can reasonably get to their local school or nearby bus stop. These changes should be clearly communicated to parents well in advance.”

As has been noted in previous blog posts, the idea for clustering students came from a third-party legal analysis provided by the district to FCMAT, which both FCMAT and the district are refusing to publicly release, citing attorney-client privilege.

Read more of Theresa Harrington's On Assignment article HERE.
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