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Questions surrounding MDUSD’s special education transportation plans remain unanswered

By Theresa Harrington
Tuesday, August 14th, 2012 at 1:06 pm in Education, Mt. Diablo school district.

After reviewing a June 20 letter to some special education parents from the Mt. Diablo school district — along with preliminary transportation findings and recommendations and a draft transportation report provided to the district by the Fiscal Crisis & Management Assistance Team (FCMAT) — I submitted several questions in July 31 emails to General Counsel Greg Rolen, Assistant Superintendent Mildred Browne and Special Education Administrator Carolyn Patton.

As of today (two weeks after I emailed them), none of them has responded.

Here are my questions:

1. What is the similarly sized district that has only two parents who are paid in lieu, which is referenced in the second paragraph (of the parent letter)? I have been told by FCMAT that they did not have this information.

2. How many special education students are in the above-referenced district and what percentage are transported?

3. As you may be aware, I received a copy of the draft transportation report from Superintendent Lawrence. The draft report attributes the “clustering” idea to a third party expert’s analysis, which I understand was provided to FCMAT by you. Who prepared this analysis? How much did the analysis cost and did the board approve of this expenditure?

4. Why does the letter to parents attribute the information about the similarly-sized district and clustering to FCMAT, when that information actually came from the district?

5. Why aren’t parent meetings being held before school starts?

6. What are the dates and times of the parent meetings? If they haven’t yet been established, when do you expect to inform parents of this information?

7. What is the website with information regarding transportation changes and frequently asked questions? If it has not yet been established, when do you expect parents to be able to use it as a resource?

8. What is the email address for sending specific questions regarding transportation? If it has not yet been established, when you do expect to inform parents that they can use it?”

So far, the only question that has been partially answered is: who prepared the third party analysis? Rolen revealed in a letter to FCMAT, which I obtained through a Public Records Act request, that the analysis was prepared by Matt Juhl-Darlington on or about April 6 — nearly two weeks BEFORE the district contracted with FCMAT for its transportation and special education studies. The district and FCMAT are refusing to provide the analysis to the press and public, citing attorney-client privilege.

Do you think someone from the district should answer these questions?

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  • g

    A must read for all Special Ed Parents–Except Greg Rolen–he wrote it–Before the divorce–Before the bankruptcy (uh-huh)–Before all of the claims of client/attorney privilege on PRA requests–but most telling; After he came to the district where he could control who gets what in Special Ed.

    Start at page 18.

    http://www.cccba.org/attorney/pdf/cclawyer/2009-08.pdf

  • Doctor J

    But at least we now know, from public records, his alleged home address last December. I wonder what conflict of interests might be disclosed by following that lead — were there others using that address that do business with the district ?

  • Anon

    Dr. J,

    I don’t know how to answer that. Maybe having it translated into Spanish would make it easier?

  • Theresa Harrington

    Note that this edition of Contra Costa Lawyer also includes an article by Paul Strange on page 10, addressing inequity in school funding.

  • Anon

    This was published in 09. I think that is the time I started hearing rumors of the district trying to pull back private placement children to the district. Greg wrote some things that are very true about how parents feel….betrayed. What is untrue in this district is that the IEP team know what they are doing. I am an advocate and I have only met a few that know what they are doing. Most school psychs have the districts back instead of doing their primary function advocating for children.
    Theresa it does not surprise me that you have not heard from anyone. I am still waiting to hear back from Rolen and Patton myself. And over two years waiting for answers from Lawrence. Hmmmmmm wonder what is coming next and why they can’t answer simple question. Hey Greg, this is why we parents have so much distrust in the district.

  • Doctor J

    Where does the CC Lawyer article fit in the timeline with Diane’s “book review” ?

  • vindex

    Keep up the good fight! You are admired by many. I was speaking with a top education official the other day and they said, “Theresa is extremely fair in her articles and her handling of many of the issues she deals with.” The MDUSD is definitely hiding something. Greg Rolen should be fired for his incompetence.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Thanks for this note. As I have previously mentioned, I also hear regularly from MDUSD staff members, former staff members and parents that they appreciate my reporting and that they learn information from my blog that they can’t get from the district.
    I appreciate this feedback and want to stress that my goal is to encourage the district to be more open and transparent. The district’s refusal to answer simple questions such as: Where is the website parents can refer to for special education questions? — is mindboggling.
    Regarding Rolen, it is unclear why he is so determined to keep information secret that would ostensibly corroborate the district’s positions. Instead of providing proof of this, he and the board are asking the public to trust district officials when they say they have legal documents that show they are acting within the law, but they don’t want to show them to the public.
    The board has the authority to release the documents without seeking Rolen’s permission. Yet, he appears to have convinced trustees that they should not do that.
    Another real head-scratcher is the Poway analysis. Hansen says she never received it. Eberhart told her in an email that trustees all got it, but he declined to state when and where. Mayo told me trustees all got a document several days before the June 25 board meeting, but also declined to state when and where. Whitmarsh says it wasn’t a document, but was instead a conversation she had with Rolen during a closed session, but she can’t remember when and under what agenda item it was discussed.
    I have also sent an email to Rolen asking when and where the board received the Poway analysis, but he hasn’t responded to that either.

  • http://www.greensideslaw.com Ian Greensides

    Of course they should respond. They are required to have parent consent and involvement. They are spending public money.

    Playing hide the ball is exactly what Patton, Browne, Rolen, and Lawrence did with my Childs special education services.

    Maybe someone needs to file a new class action suit.

  • Anon
  • Anon

    Check out the agenda item:
    13.20 Revision to Board Policy 5116 – School Attendance Boundaries

    changes for overflow students transportation. This will certainly impacted many students’ ability to get to school.

  • Theresa Harrington

    And there is no FCMAT report.
    Also, none of Hansen’s six requested agenda items appear (although they are mentioned as Future Agenda items).

  • Doctor J

    How long does it take a six year old child to walk five miles to school ? How many busy streets will that child have to cross. It seems this is a racist policy, directed at hispanics since Meadow Homes is the school most impacted. The hispanic community will never see this one coming. Where are their advocates ? Board policy proposed revision 5116, Agenda Item 13.20.

  • Anon

    I notice the FCMAT report is still underground. The rumors of Lawrence looking for a way to keep it underground forever still persist.

  • Theresa Harrington

    The board should demand that it be presented to the public, since it was paid for by taxpayers and the district continues to tell the parents that it is basing transportation changes on the report.
    As previously mentioned, I will post the special education review preliminary findings and recommendations, which were provided to the district June 19, but which the district has not publicly shared. I obtained that and other documents through my FCMAT PRA.

  • http://www.greensideslaw.com Ian Greensides

    The District last year refused to provide me with statistical data related to special education and ADA complaints. I submitted a public records request, and they refused. Their M.O. is to hide the ball, pay themselves large salaries, and give our teachers some of the lowest salaries and benefits of any teachers in the bay area. Administrators pay very little for their health benefits, while teachers need to pay the full price. For a family, that is around $1,200.

    The reason why the public won’t support new tax measures is that the District is not forthcoming with information, and has too much internal conflict.

    Mt. Diablo, it’s time to come to the table, and provide full disclosure. That’s how you build trust, earn respect, and gain public support. But, it starts first with integrity.

    Carolyn Patton, Greg Rolen, Steve Lawrence, Gary Eberhart, Sherry Whitmarsh, Linda Mayo, Lynne Dennler, Cheryl Hansen – where is the integrity?

  • Theresa Harrington

    For the Aug. 27 board meeting, Trustee Cheryl Hansen has requested that trustees discuss amending Board Policy related to the superintendent’s evaluation so that it includes a public discussion of goal-setting, success indicators and the board’s level of satisfaction with the evaluation “instruments and methods.”
    In her proposed agenda item, Hansen states:
    “The intent of this proposed amendment is to increase the public’s awareness of the superintendent’s goals, ensure that these goals are aligned to district goals, and increase board accountability.”
    Now, it remains to be seen if Board President Sherry Whitmarsh and Superintendent Steven Lawrence will place her proposed item on the Aug. 27 agenda.

  • Theresa Harrington

    I see the board is also planning to quietly expand the scope of the YVHS field lighting project, without a public hearing regarding the environmental report: http://esbpublic.mdusd.k12.ca.us/public_itemview.aspx?ItemId=5663&mtgId=346

    Note that the agenda item for this is labeled: “Contract amendment: Salas O’Brien Engineers, Inc.” If no one bothered to click on that, they would never know it was for the YVHS field project. Yet, other agenda items clearly state the nature of the contracts (such as the one for locker replacement at YVHS). Why is there no consistency?

  • Doctor J

    @#18 More blatant deception by the Supt. who signed the agenda item.

  • Theresa Harrington

    The Pawar contract is surprisingly unspecific: http://esbpublic.mdusd.k12.ca.us/public_itemview.aspx?ItemId=5661&mtgId=346
    The board plans to approve an expenditure of nearly $1.7 million for transportation of special education students districtwide.
    In light of the FCMAT findings and recommendations, the board and public deserve to see a breakdown of how many students are being transported within the district, outside the district and how many use wheelchairs.
    Although different costs for these are stated in the contract, there is no indication of how many students the $1.7 million will pay to transport.

    In contrast, the AA Med contract in the next agenda item specifically states that it will pay to transport 24 medically fragile students attending County Programs and Non Public school programs for a cost of $307,500.00: http://esbpublic.mdusd.k12.ca.us/public_itemview.aspx?ItemId=5664&mtgId=346

    Again, there is a lack of consistency in the way these contracts are being presented.

  • Doctor J

    Monday Night at the Fights — with Gary Eberhart making his first LAME DUCK appearance — yup, that’s MDUSD School Board Meeting. Lawrence already has the votes counted [he had to postpone the meeting a week] to eliminate “overflow busing” even though some elementary minority students will be forced to walk more than 10 miles to school — er, isn’t getting the votes pre-counted, a Brown Act violation ? Lawrence has NO backup plan if the Board changes its mind NEXT monday [takes two Board meetings to change policy so Lawrence scheduled them a week apart BEFORE school starts so parents won't know and can't organize], just two days before school starts. And Steven, where are you hiding the FCMAT report ? Watch for any bulges under the suit coat. :-) I know you will have your popcorn and favorite beverage available, but better stock some caffeine too because tonight’s meeting could go as late as 3 or 4 am ! Another great production by Steven Lawrence.

  • Doctor J

    @TH#15 On Friday noon you said you would post the FCMAT “special education review preliminary findings and recommendations, which were provided to the district June 19, but which the district has not publicly shared”. Did I miss them someplace ?

  • Anon

    Still hearing strong rumors that Lawrence intends to keep the FCMAT report under wraps forever.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Dr. J: I was actually supposed to be “off” Friday, since I had to work the cops beat yesterday. So, that’s why I haven’t posted it yet.
    I will post it today, along with a link to the emails and some of the other documents I received from my PRA.

  • Theresa Harrington

    I now see that the Pawar agenda item states that Pawar will be paid nearly $1.7 million to transport 132 NPS and county students. I don’t remember seeing details about the students on the agenda report previously.
    This means the district will spend an average of $12,743 per student on this contract.
    In comparison, the district will spend about $12,812 per student for the AA Med transport contract, or about $69.50 more per student per year for medically fragile children.
    The Pawar report still does not break down how many students are inside the district, outside the district or using wheelchairs.
    The FCMAT draft transportation report recommends cutting down on private transportation contracts for non-medically fragile students and transporting them on buses instead, to save money. It’s unclear why that report isn’t being presented.

  • Doctor J

    Lawrence’s Bait and Switch: he posts Agenda items and they change within the 72 hour Brown Act period. I don’t know why law enforcement lets him get away with it ! Its one thing to “add” with due notice, but another thing to just change the item pretending it said that for the whole 72 hours.

  • Theresa Harrington

    I can’t prove that it changed, since I hadn’t printed it out. But, since I commented previously on the fact that such detail was not included in the agenda item, I don’t think it was there before (unless I missed it somehow).
    The other glaring omission is the FCMAT recommendation to cut down on outside transportation.
    FCMAT wrote in its draft report: “…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.”

  • Doctor J

    @TH#25 I also believe the amounts are different. How is the public supposed to know which items have changed and which haven’t when there are over 50 items on the Agenda ?

  • Doctor J

    Doesn’t General Counsel Greg Rolen have a direct financial conflict of interest in the Parwar contract since he is a direct beneficiary of the services by transportation of his children contracted for ? Doesn’t the Fair Political Practices Commission and District Policy require such a disclosure ?

  • g

    If you know where to find FPPC annual conflict of interest forms please share the links. I’ve been all over that site and can find None for MDUSD employees, committees or board. Torlakson seems to be an open book, so where are the district’s 700s?

  • anon

    Theresa
    Are you doing a blog tonight at the MDUSD board meeting?

  • Theresa Harrington

    Yes, I’ll also be videotaping and uploading video to http://qik.com/tharrington and later to http://www.youtube.com/tunedtotheresa.
    I’m also almost done with a new FCMAT blog post.

  • g

    A bit “picky” maybe, but it’s the strangest thing. Over and over, I add items and I get a different total than our ED-ucators arrived at.

    Pawar: $ 723,023.00
    859,050.00
    ============
    $1,582,073.00

    I’ve brought this up on a few other contract totals, and even on a Lawrence item or two.

    Simple mistake? Poor oversight? Don’t care about accuracy? Making a couple hundred Grand a year????

    I’m embarrassed for the bunch of them!

  • Theresa Harrington

    Here’s my new FCMAT blog post, which includes findings and recommendations related to special ed, along with emails: http://www.ibabuzz.com/onassignment/2012/08/20/mdusd-may-overhaul-transportation-and-special-education-programs/

  • g

    How many months ago was it that the board “instructed” Lawrence to look into having meetings televised or video broadcast — and report back?

    Has it been almost a year since Rolen promised a transportation fleet inventory?

  • Theresa Harrington

    g: Mayo pointed out the discrepancy and Angie Goakey said it was a typo.

  • Doctor J

    A typo eh . . . Lawrence claims to have a degree in math and he approved it. Was it a typo for Lawrence to hire a middle school principal without board approval ?

  • Doctor J

    Several board members last night, including Hansen, Eberhart and Dennler made similar points: we have wonderful board policies, but they aren’t being implemented at the child, school and classroom levels. The Board questions were just given fluff and bull, smoke and mirrors, and no specific answers. Implementation: the responsibility of the Supt and his team. He and his team should be held accountable.

  • Doctor J

    Correction to my post #37 after I watched Theresa’s video. The explanation from Carolyn Patton, and never disputed or reconciled, was that the extra $100,000 was additional money from the summer that was overspent. Remember back to June when they asked the Board to approve additional Parwar money that had been spent, but not Board appropriated ? I would bet that the expenses were even higher than had been approved that night. Lawrence jumps in quite quickly [unusual for him] to suggest to them it was just a “typo” and after he prompted them a couple of times, they “got it” and joined in on the “typo”. Eberhart locked them in by amendeding his motion to reflect the correct mathmatics [not exactly done according to Roberts Rules but everyone seem to agree]. So I would expect we would see another Parwar request down the road for about $100,000.

  • Theresa Harrington

    I thought that was Angie Goakey who said it included summer money. But, yes, there was definitely confusion about the extra $100,000.
    In general, the level of detail in staff reports is lacking. Trustee Linda Mayo did her own research and referred back to previous reports the board had received regarding Pawar contracts. But, board members and the public should not have to hunt for this information. It should be presented in the staff report, so that everyone can refer to the previously presented information and read through it before the meeting.
    Trustee Gary Eberhart said he is able to meet with the general counsel and to privately ask staff questions and he was very happy with the level of information he is able to receive from staff. What he doesn’t seem to realize is that the public deserves the same level of information that he is getting privately.

  • Doctor J

    Is the Times taking any action to get the refused documents supplied to FCMAT ?