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Posted at 05:55 PM ET, 06/25/2012

District again moves to regain control of busing


School bus (Sean Locke - iStockphoto )
UPDATED 6/25

The District wants its buses back — its school buses, which have been under the control of a court-appointed receiver since 2003. City lawyers petitioned a federal judge Thursday to return their management to the city.

I should say that the District again wants its buses back, because the city filed a motion similar to the one filed yesterday back in 2009. Then as now, the District is arguing that it can competently manage the task of moving more than 3,300 special-ed students to schools across the region and back, using a fleet of 800 buses and more than 1,600 employees.

The court-appointed bus administrator, David Gilmore, told the judge back in 2009 that the city was “consistently providing safe, timely, and appropriate transportation services.” But the city’s busing performance slipped and he changed his mind; in a report last August. Gilmore accused the city of jeopardizing children’s safety by using unsafe buses.

Now, the District argues, “A safe, efficient, timely, and fully functional transportation system for special education students of the District of Columbia is in place, has been operating successfully, and is demonstrably durable.”

If U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman agrees, it will be the second major victory for Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan in removing court oversight of city functions. Earlier this year, another federal judge agreed to end the four-decade-old case concerning the city’s treatment of the mentally ill.

Legal Times’s Zoe Tillman has a good overview of the new argument. Here’s the money paragraph from the filing:

The District has earned the right to have the transportation orders vacated now. It is making making sound management decisions, supporting strong leadership, and adequately funding the system. Under these circumstances, the District should not be required to wait until the beginning of the school year, October 2012, or some other arbitrary date to end court supervision. There can be no doubt that continued court supervision and “monitoring” by plaintiffs is expensive, disruptive, and causes the diversion of time and resources better spent on focusing on management of the transportation system. Especially in the beginning of the school year, with so many additional and new variables which typically arise, District officials need to spend their time focusing on the safe, timely, and reliable transportation system that has been developed and now is in place, and not on answering questions by outsiders, generating unnecessary reports, and being consistently subjected to unnecessary scrutiny.

Also, a footnote:

The District already has spent over $16 million on this case under judicial supervision and there is no valid reason to perpetuate these costs in these times of fiscal austerity. The District should be relieved of this unduly expensive, and now unnecessary, exercise so it can better spend its funds on other governmental matters which require these resources.

A lawyer for the class plaintiffs told Legal Times he was still reviewing the filing. Notably, an April letter included in Thursday’s filing sent by another plaintiffs’ lawyer Gilmore’s lawyer indicated that the city and plaintiffs might “jointly approach the Court sometime in June” about ending oversight — if the city met certain goals. It’s not clear what happened behind the scenes — the lawyer, John F. Cooney, was not available for comment Friday afternoon — but the city is going it alone on this new filing.

In other District court oversight news, the latest report from the court monitor in LaShawn A. v. Gray, the case concerning the city’s child welfare efforts, was made public this week. It found some progress toward meeting an agreed-upon set of goals for exiting court oversight but much work left to do.

A letter from the court monitor, Judith Meltzer, to Judge Thomas F. Hogan generally hailed the new director of the Child and Family Services Agency, Brenda Donald: “CFSA is moving forward with a sense of urgency to identify underlying policy, practice and management barriers to improved outcomes and to frame and take deliberate steps to address and resolve some longstanding problems.”

UPDATE, 6/25, 5:50 P.M.: I mistakenly referred to Cooney as a lawyer for the plaintiffs; he in fact represents Gilmore in the ongoing proceedings. One of the actual plaintiffs’ attorneys, Jennifer Lav of University Legal Services, said Monday that the plaintiff plan to oppose the District’s motion as premature: “For the past two years, Defendants’ compliance with on-time arrivals has slipped substantially at the end of the summer and at the beginning of the school year. Given this history of repeated serious issues associated with the opening of school, we continue to believe that the end of October is the appropriate time to determine compliance.”

By  |  05:55 PM ET, 06/25/2012

 
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