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MDUSD may overhaul transportation and special education programs

By Theresa Harrington
Monday, August 20th, 2012 at 7:03 pm in Education, Mt. Diablo school district, special education.

Through a Public Records Act request, I have received several emails and documents from the Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team (FCMAT) related to the Mt. Diablo school district’s contract for two studies:
1) providing findings and recommendations related to the district’s transportation programs; and
2) providing a review of the district’s special education program.

As noted in recent blog posts, these findings and recommendations have not yet been presented to the school board or the public. However, the district sent a June 20 letter to parents informing them of transportation changes it claimed were recommended by FCMAT.

I have previously pointed out that some of the ideas for these changes came from the district itself, instead of from FCMAT. This came to light after Superintendent Steven Lawrence inadvertently sent me a copy of FCMAT’s draft transportation report, which did not directly support some of the changes being implemented by the district.

After Lawrence sent me that report, he followed up with an email saying that he expected the final report to be presented to the board Aug. 13. Subsequently, the Aug. 13 meeting was postponed to Aug. 20 (tonight), because two trustees were unavailable last Monday.

Contrary to Lawrence’s assurance, however, no FCMAT reports appear on tonight’s agenda. Instead, the board will consider three transportation-related staff recommendations, without any backup material from FCMAT.

The first is a contract for nearly $1.7 million to transport 132 Non Public School and County students to and from school. Neither the staff report nor the contract reveal to the board or the public how many students are in-district, how many travel outside the district or how many use wheelchairs.

According to the contract, the district pays $40 per day for ambulatory students sharing rides within the district; $120 for students in wheelchairs within the district; $70 per day for ambulatory students sharing rides outside the district, and $140 per day for students in wheelchairs traveling outside the district. In addition, the district may pay $25 per hour for ambulatory students and $40 per hour for students in wheelchairs. The board and public deserve to see a breakdown of these costs. Absent such a breakdown, it appears that the district intends to spend an average of $12,743 per student per year on this contract.

The second transportation-related item is a $307,500.00 contract with AA Med Trans to transport 24 medically fragile students. This averages $12,812 per student per year — or about $69.50 more per year per student than the Pawar charges.

Although FCMAT specifically addressed outside transportation contracts in its draft transportation report, the district is not presenting FCMAT’s findings and recommendations.

Here is what the report said: “…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.”

In addition, FCMAT recommended: “…improve transportation request forms and checklists and cluster stops for students who can reasonably get to their local school or nearby bus stop. These changes should be clearly communicated to parents well in advance.”

As has been noted in previous blog posts, the idea for clustering students came from a third-party legal analysis provided by the district to FCMAT, which both FCMAT and the district are refusing to publicly release, citing attorney-client privilege.

The third transportation-related item up for discussion tonight is the elimination of “overflow” busing for students who must attend a school that is not in their neighborhood, because there is not enough space at their home school. This would apply only to students who are traveling to schools that are less than 5 miles from their home schools.

This item is somewhat hidden on the agenda under the title: “13.20 Revision to Board Policy 5116 – School Attendance Boundaries.”

The agenda attachment does not provide any rationale for the proposed change in policy. Instead, it merely proposes that one paragraph in the policy be changed.

Currently, it states:

“Occasionally the district cannot serve a student at the neighborhood school because a particular grade level is full. In this case, the student is assigned to a nearby school with available space, thus becoming an ‘overflow’ student. For middle and elementary school students, TRANSPORTATION SHALL BE PROVIDED TO THE CLOSEST AVAILABLE SCHOOL. If such a student is assigned to an impacted school, the student shall be able to continue at the impacted school through the remainder of the school year. At the beginning of the next school year, each ‘overflow’ student assigned to an impacted school shall return to the neighborhood school.”

Lawrence is recommending that the above language that is in all caps (my emphasis) be deleted and replaced with: “transportation will only be provided if the closest available school is more than five miles away from the student’s home elementary school.”

Lawrence is not providing the board or public with any information about how many students this would affect or how much this would save the district. He is also not providing information related to overflow busing that is included in the FCMAT’s draft transportation report.

FCMAT wrote that the district’s current board policy and administrative regulation require elementary students to live 1.25 miles from their schools to be eligible for home-to-school service and middle school students to live 3 miles from their schools to be eligible.

“Over the years,” FCMAT wrote, “the district has increased regular home-to-school transportation walking distances, but has not amended policies to reflect those changes. Therefore, some students technically qualify for transportation according to policy, but service is not provided. In addition, the policy does not mention providing transportation to NCLB (No Child Left Behind) or overflow students.”

In 2010-11, FCMAT wrote, 272 overflow students were transported to schools other than their home school. It’s unclear why no data from the 11-12 school year was included. FCMAT recommended limiting the schools that students could choose to attend to reduce transportation logistics and costs.

However, FCMAT did not specifically recommend increasing distances for transportation eligibility. Instead, it made two recommendations related to overflow busing:

“1. Review and amend board policy and administrative regulations to reflect the district’s desired service level.

2. Limit the number of eligible schools that students can choose to attend for NCLB and overflow reasons.”

Emails that I received from FCMAT show that FCMAT sent a second draft of the transportation report to Lawrence for review July 27, seeking comments by July 30, “so we can proceed to finalize the report.” It’s unclear why it is apparently taking so long to finalize.

Here is a link to the emails related to the transportation report:

Note that FCMAT sent the first draft transportation report July 18, saying that it would be finalized after it received corrections or suggested changes. That email did not mention a second draft.

Before FCMAT sent its draft report to Lawrence, it had sent Lawrence a June 5 “exit letter” outlining its preliminary transportation findings and recommendations. Here is the link to that letter:

Although this letter had been privately provided to the board and to the CAC Executive Committee, it has not been presented to the public. After I requested it from Lawrence, I posted it on my blog so readers could get an idea of possible upcoming changes in transportation.

Similarly, FCMAT sent a June 19 letter to Lawrence outlining its preliminary findings and recommendations related to special education. This letter was also provided to the board, but not to the CAC. I obtained it as part of my PRA. Here is a link to that letter:

Here are the emails I received from FCMAT related to the special education report:

Note that the first set of emails also includes some information related to the special education review, including May 14 and May 15 emails from Bill Gillaspie to Bryan Richards mentioning the need to do a parent morale survey. The first set of emails also includes a May 4 email from Richards to Gillaspie about the superintendent’s concerns about the special education study and timeline.

The second set of emails — specifically related to the special education review — includes one dated July 26 to Lawrence, which states that the draft special education report is attached. It asks for corrections or suggested modifications, then states: “Upon receiving this information, we can finalize the report.”

It has now been nearly four weeks since that email was sent. It’s unclear why the report is taking so long to finalize.

The second set also includes a May 17 email from Lawrence reducing the scope of work. “I will ask that Bill included (sic) the CAC parent leaders as a group to interview,” he wrote, “but we are not going to do a full blown parent survey at this time.”

Here is the revised scope of study:

“FCMAT Study: Special Education Mt Diablo Unified School District
June 4, 2012

Scope of Study: Provide recommendations to address the necessary balance between providing a full continuum of services required by law for students with special needs while providing full consideration of the financial effects that the funding has on the district as follows:

1. A review of the special education administrative structure and compare with single district SELPA districts of comparable size with recommendations for cost savings, if any.

2. Analyze the internal operations of all administrative positions in special education and make recommendations for greater efficiency and cost effectiveness, if any.

3. Analyze the classified support positions within the administrative structure that support internal special education operations.

4. Provide an analysis of staffing ratios, class and caseload size using statutory requirements for mandated services and statewide guidelines. Must include FTE and caseload as of May 1.

5. Provide an analysis of all staffing and caseloads for designated instruction providers: speech therapists, psychologists, occupational/physical therapists, behavior specialists, adaptive physical education and others. Must include FTE and caseloads as of May 1.

6. Review the use of resource allocations for nonpublic schools and agencies and mental health services, alternative programs and make recommendations for greater efficiency.

7. Review the costs of due process, alternative dispute resolution and mediations for the past three years.”

Here is another document I received regarding information requested from the district by FCMAT:

“May 4, 2012




Eric, based on the scope of this study, these are the documents we will need to have prepared in advance of, or for our arrival at the district. There should be two sets of documents (three if you want them as well).
• Last 2 years TRAN Report
• Budget elements showing Transportation revenue and expenditures for last year (actuals or unaudited actuals), and this year’s budget.
• School transportation fee information if district charges fees for home to school transportation.
• Map showing district boundaries, school sites, and the bus routes. Include the bell times.
• District calendar indicating student days of attendance.
• Detailed bus routes (including right and left turns) showing driver, bus number and student load for each run (Both home to school and special education). Student names and addresses for special education.
• Information on any contracted home to school or special education transportation service including transportation provided by taxis or non-public schools. This would include most recent invoices and formal contracts, if any. Include any service provided by the County Office of Education or SELPA.
• Detail of any revenue to be transferred by the CCCOE to district for special education transportation.
• Field trip detail to include the average number of trips scheduled each year and the rate charged to district users. If student transportation is provided in non-school district vehicles, include any published district practices on their use and any district requirement for drivers.
• A fleet list showing buses and all district support vehicles (year, make, model, passenger capacity, wheelchair capacity, current mileage).
• District Organization Chart and Transportation Department Organization Chart.
• Transportation Department roster of employees, job classifications, and their regular work hours (hours per day, months per year).
• District Policies and administrative regulations relative to pupil transportation: walking distances, pupil transportation fees, field trip policies and procedures, policies and procedures relative to parent driven trips or trips in district vans or automobiles other than school buses.
• Last two year’s CHP Terminal Grade reports (we will review on site random records to include vehicle maintenance histories, 45-day/3000 mile inspections, purchasing procedures and inventory control).
• Collective bargaining agreement with all representative units in the Transportation Department.
• Current Salary Schedule.
• Transportation Department handbook
• Transportation Safety Plan
• School bus evacuation records for home to school and special education for the 2011-12 school year.

The following key staff members should also be scheduled for individual interviews (individual interviews to be approximately one hour for CBO, at least one half hour for all other positions, and approximately 3 hours for Transportation Director):

• CBO or direct administrator over school transportation
• Transportation Director
• Operations supervisors or driver supervisors
• Driver Instructors
• Dispatchers
• Routers/schedulers
• Shop Supervisor
• Several Mechanics
• Several drivers
• CSEA or Union President or job steward

Also on-site we will review the driver training function, driver training records, dispatch function and any other necessary elements.”

I also received a few other documents, which I haven’t yet uploaded to DocStoc. These are related to interviews and documentation regarding current special education programs.

Do you agree with Lawrence’s decision to eliminate the parent morale survey?

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