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Lack of coordination exacerbated MDUSD special education busing problems

By Theresa Harrington
Friday, August 27th, 2010 at 7:09 pm in Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington.

By Theresa Harrington

Mt. Diablo school district transportation employees will be working over the weekend to remedy problems with special education busing that angered many parents during this first week of school.

“I’m not sure what’s going on with the routes,” Mildred Browne, assistant superintentendent for special education, told me late this afternon. “I know there are a lot of subs…As far as why there are all the hiccups, I’m not sure.”

She said transportation officials expect to meet Saturday with bus drivers. They will call parents and double-check their information to be sure all students are routed correctly, Browne said.

“A lot of unfortunate incidents have happened at all the schools,” she said. “We’ve had a number of parents being very upset.”

If all goes well, students should be bused appropriately starting Monday, Browne said. She acknowledged the district switched to a new computer system, but said she didn’t know if that had anything to do with problems that included some parents not being notified there would be no bus for their children, while others were erroneously told no bus would be available.

Lorrie Davis’ daughter was nearly transported to Bay Point instead of to her Concord home. Browne said this was because the girl had the same name as another child. But Davis told me today that she checked with teachers at Woodside Elementary and no other student there has her daughter’s name.

“I wouldn’t even say it’s anybody’s fault,” said Davis, who is chairwoman of the district’s special education Community Advisory Committee. “I’ve spoken with several staff members. I think they all understand there is a lack of a proper procedure. I think they all need to be in the same room together and figure out why did the system have these glitches and come up with a new plan so it doesn’t happen again.”

Brown said all student information has been input into the computer system. Those whose information was input Aug. 20-23 were the ones whose parents were called earlier this week, she said.

“Beyond that,” she said, “I’m not sure what’s happened.”

Pete Pedersen, who oversaw transportation as the assistant superintendent for administrative services, is retiring in four days. According to a board-approved restructuring, his position is being eliminated and his transportation duties have been assigned to general counsel Greg Rolen.

Jeff McDaniel, whose job was recently upgraded to director of facilities, operations and resource conservation, is directly responsible for transportation, Browne said. Effective July 1, trustees approved a $27,998 salary increase to $190,000 for Rolen and a $11,136 boost for McDaniel (from a range of $72,803-$98,702 to a range of $83,939-$109,838). Neither Rolen nor McDaniel returned my calls early this evening.

Browne said her department wasn’t told there would be a busing problem until Tuesday (the day before school started). Special education staffers met with transportation workers to discuss the problems, but didn’t develop a plan to let principals know, Browne said.

She said communication with schools is the responsiblitiy of Rose Lock, assistant superintendent for student achievement and school support. But Lock told me earlier today that she wasn’t involved in communicating with schools regarding the special education buses.

“Dr. Brown and Mr. Rolen are working together to resolve this,” Lock said. “We can’t have too many cooks stirring the pot.”

Superintendent Steven Lawrence hasn’t yet presented the board with detailed job descriptions for the recently created Student Achievement and Support Division staff, although Trustee Linda Mayo has asked him to do so.

Browne said the director of elementary support, who reports to Lock, informed principals about the busing issue.

“I did see a communication from Susan Petersen,” Browne said. “But the communication I saw was yesterday (the day after school started).”

When I visited Mountain View Elementary in Concord on Wednesday, the principal, secretary and a special education teacher said they thought the busing problems wouldn’t be resolved until after Labor Day.

“Different people are being told different things,” said secretary Jean Sabolevsky. “It’s the budget cuts.”

Principal Diana DeMott said it was difficult returning to school Aug. 2 without her office staff. Because of budget reductions, her office manager didn’t start until Aug. 9 and her secretary returned Aug. 17 — just seven days before school started.

“When you work with people, it’s just like you’re married,” DeMott said. “There are unspoken responsibilities one has. The three of us work like a well-oiled machine and when they’re not there, things surface that you never even had to think about.”

The busing issue, she said, could be one of many unforeseen consequences of budget cuts.

“Everyone is doing just as much with far less staff and everyone’s doing the best we can,” she said. “Our job at the sites is to make sure that the children do not in any way notice a shortage in staff.”

But, it’s hard not to notice when your bus doesn’t show up.

“It’s been a long week and it’s only been three days,” Davis said. “We can only go forward. We can’t keep pointing fingers, so let’s just find out what the problem was and do something to fix it.’

Are you satisfied with the district’s coordination of special education busing?

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