The District’s transportation service for 3,500 special education students is in disarray, plagued by managerial incompetence that has left some buses without proper maintenance, including annual brake inspections, the court-appointed master overseeing the system said in a new report.
David Gilmore said the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE), the agency responsible for the service, jeopardized the safety of students during the 2010-11 school year by “knowingly” transporting them in improperly maintained or inspected buses. Continued problems with the aging 827-bus fleet, he said, will likely cause “substantial operational problems” with the beginning of the new school year next Monday.
“I have lost confidence in the current ability of [OSSE] to manage the transportation system in a safe and compliant manner,” Gilmore said in a July 22 letter to U.S. District Court Judge Paul L. Friedman.
District officials acknowledged the problems, which include a complete turnover in senior management of OSSE’s transportation division this summer. But D.C. State Superintendent Hosanna Mahaley said Monday that the issues are being addressed and that no child will ride to school next week on an unsafe bus.
“We are ready for school to start and we have more than enough buses,” Mahaley said.
Bus service for special needs students has been under federal court supervision for much of the last decade, a result of the Petties class action lawsuit brought by parents because of the District’s inability to get children to public and private schools scattered across the region in a safe and timely manner.
In 2003, Friedman appointed Gilmore to oversee the $80 million-a-year system. In May 2010, based on reports from Gilmore citing improved service, Friedman authorized him to begin gradually shifting control back to the District, citing improved on-time arrival performance and other benchmarks.
But a final restoration of day-to-day responsibility to OSSE was postponed several times because of continued complaints about service.
Gilmore said in his July 22 report that he had no choice but to recommend that control of the system revert back to a court-appointed administrator. But in a follow-up letter to Mahaley last week, he said he would give the city 30 business days to correct the problems. Gilmore said he relented after a meeting with City Administrator Allen Lew in which Lew pledged to work with OSSE to resolve the issues.
In a statement Monday, Lew spokesman Tony Robinson said the District was “keenly aware” of the issues raised by Gilmore and was working to ensure a successful school opening.
Mahaley said parents with questions or concerns about bus service can call one of several numbers: the Parent Call Center for information about bus status (202-576-5000), OSSE’s Office of Investigation for complaints about transportation (202-671-7233) or the office of Special Education for transportation enrollment issues (202-442-5400).