MDUSD implements transportation changes without first allowing public to see report on which they are based
Quite by accident, I have obtained a draft report that includes much sought-after information about Mt. Diablo district plans to drastically change student transportation services in the next school year.
In April, the district asked the independent Fiscal Crisis and Management Team, called FCMAT, to evaluate its transportation programs and recommend cost-cutting measures or other changes that could improve operations. Many special education parents have been anxiously awaiting the results because they know their children could be affected.
District officials alluded to the report’s findings and recommendations in a June 20 letter to parents outlining upcoming changes. In addition, special education Administrator Carolyn Patton outlined them in a June 25 oral report to trustees.
But the written findings and recommendations were not presented to the board or released it to the public. So, I requested a copy of them, along with a copy of the letter to parents, which Patton referenced at the June 25 meeting.
In an e-mail to Superintendent Steven Lawrence, I wrote that it was my understanding the board had received both documents.
He sent me the following e-mail response on July 19: “That’s interesting because I have not received a draft or final report from FCMAT. I will have to check with board members to determine where the reports they have received came from because to my knowledge no one at the district has received copies of the draft or final reports.”
I learned Tuesday that this was not true, when Lawrence sent this email message, with an attachment: “I needed to check with Carolyn and I believe this is the letter you are referring to. It is a (sic) exit letter of the FCMAT audit.”
But the attachment was not a letter. It was the draft transportation report, which Lawrence previously claimed he didn’t have.
It was dated July 18 — the day before Lawrence sent the email saying he didn’t have the report and that no one else did either.
Lawrence had inadvertently let the cat out of the bag. He had also provided proof that his previous assertion about not having the report was false.
I posted a link to the document on my blog, along with a copy of the June 20 letter sent by the district to parents, which I received from a reader.
In another email today, Lawrence admitted he sent me the report in error.
“I made a mistake,” he wrote. “ That is our draft report and has not been shared with the board or any member of the public. Because people have been on vacation we are still vetting the draft to get corrections back to FCMAT. As part of the FCMAT process they always check findings with a school district before the report is finalized. Therefore, there could be errors in the current document. I know that I cannot mandate that you do or don’t do anything with the report, but our goal is to share the actual final report with the board at the Aug. 13 meeting. At that point, the final report would be a public document and you could share any parts of it that you felt appropriate. Attached is the letter that we received at the end of the (FCMAT) visit.”
Here is a link to the letter — dated June 5 — which outlines the transportation issues FCMAT planned to evaluate and includes preliminary findings and recommendations: http://www.docstoc.com/docs/document-preview.aspx?doc_id=124879803
Recommendations include revamping staffing, curbing door-to-door service and cutting back on student transportation provided by private vendors.
It appears that the letter sent to parents was based on the preliminary findings in the June 5 FCMAT letter, which the public never got a chance to see. Likewise, the draft report — which Lawrence appears to have initially attempted to conceal — would not have been made public if he had not accidentally sent it to me.
The district’s lack of transparency is causing frustration among parents, who want to know why it is making changes to their children’s transportation plans. They deserved to have been given the opportunity to weigh in on the findings and recommendations BEFORE the district decided to implement them.
Instead, parents are being told now that the changes are a virtually a done deal and they’ll get to see why when the board reviews the final report Aug. 13.
Do you think the district should have invited public input on the recommendations before implementing them?
JULY 28 UPDATE: I sent Superintendent Steven Lawrence an email Wednesday, which included the following statement and question:
“…the report you mistakenly sent me was dated the day before you sent that email. Also Bill (Gillaspie) confirmed that FCMAT sent you the report in a July 18 email. Therefore, you had in fact received a draft report from FCMAT when you stated that you had not and when you stated that to your knowledge no one at the district had received it. Why did you make those false statements?”
Here is Lawrence’s response, which he sent in a Thursday email:
“I responded prior to receiving anything from FCMAT.”
In order to verify that FCMAT had sent Lawrence the document the day before he denied having it, I asked Gillaspie for a copy of the email sent by FCMAT.
Here is the copy Gillaspie sent:
“From: Leonel Martinez
Sent: Wednesday, July 18, 2012 1:44 PM
Cc: Bill Gillaspie
Subject: FCMAT draft report
Steven Lawrence, Ph.D., Superintendent
Mt. Diablo Unified School District
1936 Carlotta Drive
Concord, CA 94519
Dear Superintendent Lawrence:
Attached is a digital copy of the draft transportation report developed by the Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team (FCMAT) for the Mt. Diablo Unified School District. Please review this draft document and contact us with any corrections or suggested changes. After we receive this information, we will proceed to finalize the report.
FCMAT Technical Writer
G: William P. Gillaspie, Ed.D., FCMAT Administrative Officer”
The above email shows that the draft report was sent to Lawrence at 1:44 p.m. July 18 — the day BEFORE he claimed he did not have it and said that no one else at the district did either.
The email included the same draft report attachment that Lawrence accidentally sent to me. Although some blog commenters have questioned the fact that the font with the July 18 date on the cover and cover letter is different from the rest of the document, the pdf from FCMAT includes the same dates. So, it appears that is the way the district received the report.
Now that Lawrence’s veracity has been called into question regarding the FCMAT report, I have requested copies of all emails and correspondence between the district and FCMAT from April to the present.
JULY 29 UPDATE: I have received an email from CAC Chairperson Lorrie Davis, who has informed me that the CAC executive board met with some district staff members to discuss the June 20 letter that would be sent to parents. Davis also said the district shared the June 5 FCMAT letter with the committee.
Here’s what Davis wrote today in an email:
“In regards to special ed. transportation, the CAC executive committee met with Mildred Browne, Greg Rolen and Carolyn Patton before the letter was sent out to parents explaining the new procedures. I appreciated them discussing the new procedures with us and listening to our concerns. In regards to ‘clustering’ our non-severe students, our biggest concerns are supervision and congestion at school sites. Parents I have spoken with have stated they are willing to cluster if it helps to save money and services provided for their children at school. We were amazed at how much money is being paid to parents for mileage reimbursement and agree that this practice needs to be controlled.”