CONCORD -- Wendy Citron says she is furious about repeated problems with the Mt. Diablo district's special education bus system, including several incidents in which the bus never showed to pick up her daughter.

The Concord woman sent an email letter of complaint to the school board saying she had spent more than an hour a day talking to district staff, trying to find out how her daughter would be transported.

Parents like Citron are frustrated with repeated problems with special education student busing. The problem has been going on for two years in the district, which has been transitioning from a contracted transportation service to its own buses.

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School officials say they're working to address the issue and hope to find a solution before next school year.

"Unfortunately, it is no longer a question of when and where, but if my child will be picked up," Citron wrote Sept. 7. "This problem exists not just for my family, but several other MDUSD families at Marchus School and at many other school locations districtwide."

About 100 parents a day flooded the district with calls after school started Aug. 30, complaining children were being stranded at home or at school with no transportation -- or were being dropped off at the wrong address, Mildred Browne, assistant superintendent for special education, said during a parent Community Advisory Committee meeting Sept. 12.

Parent Mike Mayo said his autistic son Jake, who is a third-grader, was left at El Monte Elementary in Concord with no bus. He took his concerns to the school board on Sept. 13, saying his son missed out on important after-school services because the bus didn't show up.

"That's a week worth of services we will never get back," he said. "That's a week worth of progress he will never make."

Board President Gary Eberhart asked district staff to report back to trustees on the issue.

"I know a lot of work is being done to try to alleviate this," he said. "You cannot leave kids at school. It just can't happen. I want to know what we're going to do to resolve this."

By Thursday, Superintendent Steven Lawrence had responded in writing to Mayo, explaining that the district had taken on responsibility for busing all students in an attempt to save money.

Last year, the board agreed to discontinue a contract with Durham Transportation through the Contra Costa County Office of Education.

"It was the responsibility of all the managers, including myself, to ensure that (the) transportation (department) was prepared to meet the demands," Lawrence wrote to Mayo. "This does not fall on the shoulders of one individual, and it is unfortunate that this was not shared with the (community advisory committee). You are correct that all principals and teachers should have had bus route information for their students on the first day of school."

Bus driver Becky Wright said the transportation department has been giving drivers wrong information.

"We're going into our second start of the school year, and it's still the same fiasco," she said. "Information being put out to us is incorrect -- the wrong address, wrong bell times -- so we're running around out there like chickens with our heads cut off. This is not new. This has been going on for two years."

Greg Rolen, the district's general counsel, oversees the transportation department. He said Monday that the department had received no complaints that day and that the special education department had received two.

"We think we're well on our way to resolving these issues," he said. "We don't really know how many complaints there were and each complaint is individual."

He said drivers had informed parents about which bus their children should be riding, but he was unsure whether parents would be given that information in writing.

Rolen said he is preparing a report for district trustees to address the busing issue.

"I am in the process of putting together some of these numbers and identifying the challenges we faced," he said. "There's not a time frame for that, because we're still working through these first three weeks of school."

ONLINE
Details about the Mt. Diablo school district's transportation plan are available by calling 925-682-8000 ext. 4010 or visiting http://esbpublic.mdusd.k12.ca.us. Click on Nov. 17 and choose items 14.6 and 14.7.