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Bus driver speaks out about special ed transportation problems

By Theresa Harrington
Monday, September 19th, 2011 at 9:43 pm in Education, Mt. Diablo school district.

Becky Wright, who has driven buses in the Mt. Diablo school district for more than 20 years, called me today to discuss special education transportation problems.

“Somebody has to say it,” she said. “We definitely have a problem in our department. The problem is big. It’s not just a few. It’s a lot.”

Wright said the problems have a domino effect.

“It affects everybody — the parents, the kids, the drivers and the teachers,” she said.

Wright said bus drivers strive to provide excellent service to students, but they are unable to do this when they are given incorrect information.

“That is what we are all about — providing the services,” she said. “And without the right information, we cannot do it. I have been very proud to be a school bus driver associated with Mt. Diablo. We had an excellent reputation until the last two years. Now, I find myself embarrassed to say that I am a school bus driver.”

Sometimes, she said, parents take out their frustrations on drivers.

“It’s hard enough on a family to have special needs,” she said, “let alone when the services you are expecting don’t come through.”

A year ago, Wright said the district blamed the problems on a new computer system. This year, Wright said the district appears to want to sweep the problems under the rug.

“It is totally wrong that they are not addressing the problem,” she said. “You’re running into schools late because of the mistakes that have been made prior and it’s just a bad setup.”

Drivers are also late sometimes because they are expected to pick up too many children in a given time period, Wright said.

“With improper information,” she said, “you’re driving around trying to find kids. It’s very probable that you’re running into your schools late.”

Wright said the service that is delivered reflects ultimately on district leadership.

“If they don’t want to address it, then they need to let us know that inferior employees and work is OK,” she said. “If they don’t feel that we deserve the best and that the children deserve the best, then that says it all. We are not important. Bottom line, we are the ones that get these kids to and from school and we need to be able to be safe in doing it and not be all stressed out about all the other garbage.”

Wright said other bus drivers share her opinions.

“There’s a lot of people that feel the same way I do,” she said. “But they would never put their name to this. I personally think we deserve better.”

Wright is most concerned, she said, about the children she is trying to serve.

“Unless we get things under control, somebody’s going to make a mistake that we’re not going to be able to undo or fix,” she said. “it will just keep coming up over and over again.”

General Counsel Greg Rolen, who oversees the transportation department, said he is gathering information about the issues to present to the school board.

“The problems are manifold,” he said. “There isn’t one problem. There’s a number of different issues that are going on.”

He said he was unsure of the number of complaints the district had received.

“We don’t really know how many complaints there were and each complaint is individual,” he said. “Some are very valid and some are not the least bit valid.”

Rolen said the district is transporting more students this year than it has in the past. There are 123 more students with IEPs (Individualized Education Plans) along with 108 more enrolled in county programs, he said.

The district also transports students who are overflowed because of overcrowding and those who choose to go to higher-performing schools, under No Child Left Behind. In all, the district transports 2,200 students a day, he said.

Last year, Rolen said, the district transported about 250 fewer special education students.

The board agreed to take on this additional busing to try to save money, according to plans developed by Pete Pedersen, the retired assistant superintendent of administrative services. Rolen said the district isn’t sure yet whether it will achieve those savings, but he thinks it will.

This is because Durham Transportation, which previously transported students through a contract with the County Office of Education, frequently bused only one student in a vehicle with an assistant, he said.

“We think we’re going to meet the savings that Pete predicted,” Rolen said.

The district is also in the process of hiring assistants to ride on buses, he said. In the past, Durham didn’t tell the district ahead of time which buses would have assistants, he added.

“We are checking every IEP to see if transportation assistance is required,” he said.

The district hired Pawar drivers to alleviate immediate problems, he said.

Although parent Wendy Citron said she wanted to receive written notification from the district about her child’s transportation plan, Rolen said he wasn’t sure whether parents would receive such information in writing.

“Wendy Citron’s issues have been resolved,” Rolen said. “To my knowledge it’s not been responded to in writing, but it’s not to say that it won’t be.”

Rolen said the district’s transportation department received no complaints today and that the special education department received two. But Wright disputed that.

“There was a busload of kids that were left,” she said. “They called our dispatcher.”

Here is a link to a letter regarding the problems from Mildred Browne, director of special education, to the Community Advisory Committee Chairwoman: https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&pid=explorer&chrome=true&srcid=0By8AZuDXQ-HJZmI5NmY2YjQtMjA5My00Yzc2LWFhYjUtYjRkNTIyZTg0MGI2&hl=en.

Are you satisfied with the district’s response to parent complaints about special education transportation?

SEPT. 21 UPDATE: After receiving a note expressing privacy concerns regarding comments related to minor children enrolled in special education, I have edited or deleted some of the comments below. It is our policy not to name special education students without parental consent. However, the name that was previously referenced was included in a Mt. Diablo school board agenda report.

SEPT. 22 UPDATE: Due to continued privacy concerns, I have deleted or edited additional comments, which referenced the parent of a special education student. We will continue to edit or delete comments that name parents of special education students without their consent.

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  • Doctor J

    Last year I exposed the massive transportation problems and was scoffed at by the Board and Administration [check the archives]. Rolen put more effort into trying to get everyone to align their public statements so they wouldn’t look bad than to fix the problems. Mildred’s failure to address the issues last year and communicate about them was inexcusable when she knew before school started there were monumentous problemsand failed to warn principals, parents and students. Significant problems continued all year. Since school was out in June, the District had until August 30 to get it right this year — same o, same o, massive problems. At least Mildred is now trying to bring the issues to light and seek solutions, but only after she is getting 100 calls a day. Rolen still appears to shift the blame to others when he took a $27,000 “Gang of Five” raise to oversee transportation. Jeff McDaniel suddenly disappears hours before the issue is to be discussed at the CAC. Just now they are hiring assistants to support the IEP’s that have been in place for years ? Its clear that the District leadership lacks management skills and puts children at risk unnecessarily. Wendy Citron’s issues only got resolved because she went public.

  • Number Eight

    Kudos to Becky Wright and the others who drive our children. I interacted with some drivers on field trips and was impressed by their responsibility.

    There’s a serious defect with a system where parents have to make complaints. Another example of MDUSD working against parents, instead of working with them.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Here is a link to video of Wendy Citron, describing her concerns about the service her daughter received and the lack of communication and misinformation she received from the district: http://bcove.me/8rt02tc4

  • g

    Theresa and Wendy, that video is so very disturbing. Please take notice that the unsigned 4 page contract with Pawar is dated effective 7/1/11, however, the attachments and insurance verification are simply photocopies from June 2010. I would suggest requiring updated dollar amounts, insurance and driver security checks at the very least.

  • Doctor J

    NOTE: This comment was edited.

    Just heard that Greg Rolen’s bus policy is to require a 3 year old to ride a bus for over 2 1/2 hours to get to school. …. And so why was Greg given a $27,000 raise to oversee transportation when everyone else was taking pay cuts and layoffs ? It doesn’t take a big imagination.

  • Theresa Harrington

    I just received an email from another parent whose daughter was not picked up for three days.
    She said she fears the district is implementing quick fixes rather than long-term solutions.

  • Just J

    I heard that none of the contracts for transportaion or many private placement providers have been updated.
    I don’t have the energy to research it. It is a never ending circle jerk with the District.

    On another note I just got in the mail my Special Education news letter informing my of an IEP class for parents scheduled for Thursday. Do you think they could give us just a little more notice? Oh but they did high light Mildred in the thing.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Speaking of short notice, the board has tentatively agreed to hold a strategic planning meeting on Monday. When I called the district office today to see if it is still scheduled (and to find out why there is no mention of it on the district website), the superintendent’s secretary said she wasn’t sure if it is still happening.
    If it is, the public is going to have very little notice about it, since it still doesn’t appear on the district’s list of upcoming meetings. Neither does the Measure C Oversight Committee meeting, but the next Parent Advisory Committee meeting is listed: http://www.mdusd.org/Pages/default.aspx

  • Just J

    They don’t want us there because we might ask them to do the same conditions the Charter has to. hahahahahaaa
    Sorry a little joke.

  • vindex

    We keep seeing the name Greg Rolen.. Time to fire this guy. He is an at-will employee. Time to fire him.

  • vindex

    NOTE: This comment was edited to delete a reference to minor children.

    Lisa..
    Just checked with a friend in the MDUSD. Please follow this lead!!!!!!! … children, … get transported to their private schools by DISTRICT PAID TOWN CARS!!!!!!!! Unbelievable. UNBELIEVABLE…

  • Becky Wright

    Who can fact check this information? If this is true information, then somebody has some questions to answer!

  • Just J

    NOTE: This comment was edited to delete a reference to a minor child.

    Theresa, Is this true that (some) kids get transported out of the district with district funds? If so can we find out how many others get the same?

  • Just J

    oh yea if they do do they go to regular private school or a special needs school?

  • g

    NOTE: This comment was edited to delete information about a minor child.

    …On the other hand, the District is paying tuition to schools as far away as Kansas and Georgia–and just a couple of months of that would pay for one full time teacher in-district for a year!

  • ExDriver

    I want to say thanks to Becky Wright for bringing this to light and to Theresa Harrington, for taking it seriously and following up on this broken district. They have been trying to sweep the transportation problem under the rug for too long. This will take more than a band-aid to fix. And I hope someone rides this until it is really fixed.

  • Anon

    @Becky Wright,

    I see that you have made your concerns known to the CC Times; have you also called the superintendent’s office and the board members to make sure that something is being done to get these problems fixed?

    What bus route are you currently driving? Are you picking your students up and dropping them off in the right place and at the right time?

  • Theresa Harrington

    Please note that I have edited and deleted some comments in this thread, after receiving an email from a reader who was concerned about student privacy.
    We will edit or delete future comments that reference specific children without their parents’ consent.

  • Doctor J

    @Thersa, I understand specifically referencing a child’s name, but why can’t we reference a parent who gets preference for his/her child ?

  • Theresa Harrington

    I discussed this with my editor and she agreed that could be a separate issue.
    However, there was at least one post that specifically named a child, which we agreed was inappropriate.

  • Doctor J

    I was unconfortable with the specific reference to the child’s name, but not to the claim that his father was getting special treatment for his children when other children in the district were not even being given their rights. Every child has the same rights under the law, and the law should be applied equally.

  • g

    Theresa, you may be right, and some specifics may not belong in a Blog. However, the name and information was taken directly off of the District’s public records and contracts.

    Now, public records from 1/26/10 Board meeting have been deleted. Talk about legality issues!

  • Doctor J

    I know it takes a ream or two of paper, but its worth printing. I know some things get deleted. I am more worried that they are being modified and it is near impossible to tell.

  • Wary One

    NOTE: This comment has been edited for privacy reasons.

    I am very concerned about how district funds are being spent. I wish I could have been driven to school daily in a private car over a long distance to a neighboring district just because I was somehow connected to a connected district employee….

  • Say What2?

    Just J, the IEP meeting has been on the front page of cvhs for weeks now. Surely that means school sites got the invite and info. You may want to blame your school site in addition to whoever you need to blame. Just saying…

  • Just J

    Say what. My child does not go to CV, I am not placing blame just saying that they could have got the news out to the ones in private placement. The District knows who we all are. Oh I guess by your post I shouldn’t point our something that could be easily fixed to incluse all.

  • Theresa Harrington

    G: What was deleted from 1/26/10?

  • Doctor J

    @Vindex, I think we all agree that every child with an IEP deserves to have equal treatment. The complaint is that high “ranking” MDUSD officials are getting special treatment for their children when the common parent’s child is left unattended or untransported in a timely manner. This is particularly agregious when the high ranking MDUSD official is in charge of transportation. Example I gave earlier: why should we have a 3 year old riding a bus to school for 2 1/2 hours when some “privileged” children are transported by “town car”. Its just not right.

  • g

    Theresa, Item 13.10, 3rd attachment, the Master Contract. Unless another has been added this year, only one district child goes to that school. Info is also listed on warrants and the Pawar Contract from 2010.

  • Wary One

    NOTE: This comment has been edited for privacy reasons.

    Theresa, perhaps you can attempt to interview Rolen about the discrepancy in vehicles used, timeliness in transporting the district’s Special Ed students, and the deficiencies in the district’s Special Ed programs that makes transporting one student out district daily necessary. …

    I just have to wonder what a Solano Co. school has that MDUSD doesn’t. I also think of all that the funds spent on daily private round trips for one student could be used for in a district that needs so much – starting with a wholesale change of top-tier employees, inc. Greg Rolen, Esquire.

  • Wait a minute

    NOTE: This comment has been edited for privacy reasons.

    I agree Wary One,
    I think we have all seen enough here. Greg Rolen has to go…

    This is made especially egregious considering that Rolen engineered a $27,000 raise for himself to oversee transportation and the disaster that he has wrought for the 2 years that he has been in charge.

    Then he has the gall to lie about and understate about the large number of complaints being recieved and assure us that he is “working” on a solution. Really!

    Something that should also be mentioned is Gary literally “throws another under the bus” a subordinate who is on “leave” in a blatant attempt to deflect the blame that Rolen as leader should be taking.

    Combine this with the fact that as “General Counsel” Rolen is subbing out virtually all the real legal work including sending district lawyer Deb Cooksey to to “negotiate” (i.e.-Stall) the charter people.

    Also of significance is Rolen’s naked attempt to stiff and charge Alicia Minyen’s lawful request for documents as part of her oversight duties on Measure C.

    Shameful and probably illegal, I hope someone makes a complaint to the State Bar against Rolen because in the real world he would be long gone from the MDUSD.

  • Theresa Harrington

    By referencing the parent, the child is being referenced indirectly. We will continue to delete or edit comments that specifically reference the parent of a special education student, unless that parent has given us permission.

  • g

    The big Picture:

    While it is both very sad and unfortunate that any child needs any level of Special Ed IEP, some are simply more fortunate than others. Their parents either have connections or they are astute in getting more for their children than are others. Get the right recommendation from the right provider, and your child gets the funds and the assignment and transportation to the facility of your choice — or if you aren’t “connected” they go to local agency assignments.

    The most recent (2009-2010) cost figure I could find for MDUSD NPS placements is a staggering $7,908,333.00 (tuition only) per school year. Some are Day only, some are Resident. Some receive several therapies. Some are based on religeous affiliation, some non.

    These schools range in distance from local to surrounding Counties to Colorado to Kansas to Georgia…. http://esb.mdusd.k12.ca.us/attachments/cc431b34-9394-44b1-8eb2-ccd29f45f9c7.pdf

    Transportation is more difficult to pin down because there are multiple professional providers and several parents who are refunded for providing their own transportation.

    Pawar service contract alone is over $1,051,000.00, and growing daily with the current transportation dilemma.

    This amount does not include the costs for those students traveling alone/single car. The price range for these is from $100.00 to $200.00 per day plus, if out of County, $3.00 per mile plus hourly wait time! To get the big picture of these costs you have to use the 180 day multiplier.

    But there is no money to get the average child to their school; some now 2-5 miles away?

    It is not unreasonable that there is ire flooding the District. We must take care of all of our children. Special children need special care. But all of the rest of the children need more equitable considerations.

  • Doctor J

    Spreading like wildfire across the district: A bus driver took four boys to Wren and ordered them off the bus — they refused saying they went to Sun Terrace. We are in the fourth week of school. Why do we expect that a lawyer can run transportation ? Its been broken for two years. Lawrence when are you going to get the clue ?

  • MDUSD Board Watcher

    My inside sources are recanting the same story shared above by Dr. J.

    I would bet my paycheck that Eberhart and Rolen try to hide this under the rug somehow. Given how fast and how far this has already traveled in certain circles, I don’t see how they can.

    Strap on the seatbelts MDUSD community, the ride is about to get a bit bumpy.

  • g

    Board Watcher, I believe you meant recounting, not recanting?

  • Wait a minute

    So Greg Rolen has complained to the Contra Costa Times.

    So he wants to try and pretend he is a victim!

    Lets see what tactic he tries to use to deflect the blame he has as the manager in charge of transportation for the 4 children Dr J. points out were driven to the wrong school?

  • Theresa Harrington

    Greg Rolen has not complained to the Contra Costa Times.

  • Doctor J

    @MDUSD Board Watcher: You can recnant if you want, but EVERRYONE should contact Gretchen Jacobs, Principal at Sun Terrace and she will verify that not only did it happen, but she reported it.

  • Wait a minute

    OK, sorry Theresa and Mr. Rolen. I took it that the reader who contacted the CC Times was Greg Rolen.

  • MDUSD Board Watcher

    Whoops. I was typing too fast.

    I meant to be a second source of verification for the story, should have typed “recount”.

    I don’t work in the district but have two very close friends who do. I can confirm that I heard this story also. I have absolutely no doubt it is true.

  • vindex

    Theresa
    I’m not sure what is going on here. I have tons of respect for you as a journalist. You have always done a fair and fine job reporting on education. However, I definitely feel
    Like you are not taking this story seriously. Maybe I am not correct. What people are talking about above is a story of preferential treatment for a district employee. This reeks of misspent tax payer money and cronyism. Please assure your loyal readers that you will follow this. Thank you

  • Theresa Harrington

    Vindex, I will follow up with the district. However, it is not appropriate to identify specific children enrolled in special education programs either by name or by association in this blog without parental consent.
    In fact, the reader who contacted me was surprised the district didn’t redact students’ names from public documents.

  • Just J

    Did I miss something? Did the District have students names on contracts? Trying to follow along here.

  • g

    Theresa, they would be redacting for days. While I fight daily for open, accurate and timely posting of public business, I agree that I probably should not be able to find the personal information that is available for individual students; names, addresses, schools, costs.

    It isn’t just the school district. Everyone should know by now that parents should pay closer attention to what both they and their minor children post on the internet.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Just J: Yes.

  • Doctor J

    @TH #43. I guess this new Times editorial policy will really limit the ability of the Times to report the names of students who are recognized by the Board for outstanding achievement without parental consent. Hope the Times gave you a large stack of “releases” for photos, videos, and names.

  • Doctor J

    @Vindex #42 I agree with you that the outrage is that high “ranking” MDUSD officials are getting special treatment for their children when the common parent’s child is left unattended or untransported in a timely manner. This is particularly outrageous when the high ranking MDUSD official is in charge of transportation and the General Counsel to the Board of Education, the one who reviews the contracts, and submits them to the Board for approval. I am not sure what the conflict of interest laws are, but there is something in this scenario that doesn’t meet the smell test.

  • Just J

    Where is this list? I need to see if my childs info is there? They will be extremly sorry if it is!

  • Doctor J

    I am not sure they can redact contractual information on a public document where a public official like the General Counsel or district manager is receiving a financial benefit from the district, in this case a child’s transportation on a special contract. I guess if this parent/employee doesn’t want the child’s name to be used, he or she could live in a different district than the one where they are employed.