Rising costs to transport severely disabled special education students across the county are testing the bonds of a regional oversight consortium.
The Superintendents Council denied a request Friday morning by Kaplan Law Group of Sacramento on behalf of two West Side districts to allow them to provide their own busing.
Speaking for the request, parent Amy Hussar of Patterson said the school bus comes for her autistic 9-year-old at 6:15 a.m., taking him to a Turlock school by 8:30. He gets back on the bus at 2 p.m., arriving after 4 p.m., she said.
"In the morning his is often the last (bus) to arrive so he doesn't get breakfast. He eats at 6, but he gets hungry again," Hussar said. Under bus policy, she added, he's not allowed to hold anything, even a book, or have water or snacks.
Patterson Joint Unified Superintendent Phil Alfano told the council time could be reduced for students by allowing his district and Newman-Crows Landing Unified to split off from the county contract with Storer Transportation.
The council refused the request. The vote was 5-3, with one seat vacant. Superintendents Ed Felt of Newman-Crows Landing Unified, Wayne Brown of Stanislaus Union and County Superintendent Tom Changnon were the dissenting votes.
The Superintendents Council is the governing board for the Stanislaus Special Education Local Plan Area, providing special education oversight for districts in Stanislaus County outside of Modesto City Schools.
Patterson and Newman districts send 75 students to special programs in other parts of the county, and will see their costs rise to roughly $1.2 million a year under a mainly mileage billing formula approved by the council last month.
That breaks out to $16,477 per student for Patterson and $24,533 for each Newman-Crows Landing rider. Felt said the two districts could save $300,000 by using their own bus service.
The Kaplan letter asks for mediation with the SELPA legal counsel if the request is denied. Felt said after the meeting that the districts would apply to opt out by 2014-15, but did not rule out potential legal action.
SELPA Director Regina Hedin said Storer gives door-to-door service to about 1,500 students across Stanislaus County. She told the council there was not enough time before July 1 to work through the details and costs of having the two districts opt out.
The consortium pays close to $7 million a year for special education busing.
Under the the contract, Hedin said, rides cannot be longer than an hour and 45 minutes in either direction. Times are tracked if a parent lodges a complaint, she said.