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.