- The Washington Times - Monday, January 23, 2006

The federally appointed administrator in charge of reforming the D.C. public school system’s special education transportation division is seeking a court order to approve contracts and acquire property without permission from the school board.

Transportation Administrator David Gilmore has requested greater contracting authority during an increasingly bitter power struggle with the school system’s administration and the D.C. Board of Education, which voted in November to reject his $72.8 million budget request.

Citing “substantial obstacles” from the school board, Mr. Gilmore also has asked a federal judge to allow him to enter into labor agreements without the board’s approval, according to his Dec. 28 request.

The request, pending before U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman, drew criticism yesterday from Board President Peggy Cooper Cafritz. She said the school board would be forced to make cuts in other programs to cover cost overruns in special-education transportation.

“It’s out of control,” Mrs. Cafritz said. “We’re really afraid that the courts won’t have the information they need to come to the decision they should.”

Mr. Gilmore was unavailable for comment yesterday, but has said in legal filings that he consistently has sought input from the board and administrators.

He was appointed to lead the troubled special education transportation division in 2003, after the settlement of a 1995 class-action lawsuit.

The division provides about 600 bus routes and transportation to thousands of the District’s special-education students, including many children who live in or attend classes in Maryland or Virginia.

The dispute between Mr. Gilmore and the school board has been escalating for months.

Mr. Gilmore requested a budget of $72.8 million for this year, but the school board approved only $61.2 million.

According to Mr. Gilmore’s legal filings, the division could save money by relocating its four bus fleet terminals. However, he is concerned that the school board won’t act on his recommendations fast enough.

He said that the school system’s lease for its terminal on New York Avenue in Northeast expires in November and that the owners have “not expressed an interest in renewing.”

In seeking a court order to buy property without the board’s approval, Mr. Gilmore said he is “greatly concerned” that the school board will “disrupt the critical process” of building new terminals.

Mary Levy, an attorney for D.C. Parents United, an advocacy group, yesterday said she’s troubled by Mr. Gilmore’s request.

“What he’s saying is that he should have a blank check,” she said.

In legal filings, Mr. Gilmore said he has enacted reforms that have resulted in cuts in absenteeism among drivers, improved morale and more reliable service. He also said he is prepared to seek D.C. Council approval for his plan to relocate bus terminals.

“I know the board was slow to act on the cost saving that David Gilmore recommended last year,” said council member Kathy Patterson, Ward 3 Democrat and chairman of the education committee.

“That said, one of the things I look forward to will be finding out from Mr. Gilmore [in upcoming oversight hearings] will be to hear more about savings in the transportation division.”

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