Stanislaus County special-ed busing switch creates rift

naustin@modbee.comApril 29, 2013 

— Changes in who pays how much toward the $6.6 million cost of door-to-school busing for Stanislaus County special-education students has created a rift among school districts, with West Side administrators retaining legal counsel to fight the shift.

The Stanislaus County Superintendents Council, a panel of district leaders that oversees special education outside of Modesto City Schools, opened its meeting Friday with a plea for unity, then adjourned behind closed doors to consider potential legal action by its districts.

Patterson Unified Superintendent Phil Alfano said his district obtained legal representation to fight what he sees as a hasty and ill-considered cost shift proposed by Turlock Unified.

Turlock comes out the heavy winner in the plan approved Friday by a 6-3 vote. Superintendents Ed Felt of Newman-Crows Landing Unified, Shannon Sanford of Gratton and county Superintendent Tom Changnon were the dissenting votes.

Precise numbers were not available Friday for the revision adopted, but the shift to a charge based primarily per mile rather than per student will save Turlock Unified roughly $525,000 next year, a 36 percent savings.

Coming out the heavy losers are Patterson and Newman-Crows Landing, who will see their costs rise by 88 percent and 39 percent, respectively, to transport children with severe disabilities to regional programs.

The panel also refused Friday to allow Patterson and Newman-Crows Landing to pull out of the Storer contract and seek their own carriers.

The annual cost for Patterson Unified will be more than $700,000 next year to bus 53 emotionally disturbed and autistic students to programs elsewhere in the county.

Newman-Crows Landing will pay more than $425,000 for its 22 students — about $20,000 each.

"They could send each kid in a stretch limo for less," Alfano told the panel.

Percentages provided by Storer Transportation count about 60 percent of busing charges as per-mile costs such as fuel, maintenance and driver salaries. The council voted to weight mileage at 76 percent of the charges assessed on districts Friday.

The overall cost of special-education student busing by Storer Transportation will not change under the new arrangement.

Money saved by some districts equals the higher cost to others.

Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at naustin@modbee.com or (209) 578-2339, on Twitter, @NanAustin, www.modbee.com/education.

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