- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 12, 2001

School and city officials vowed yesterday to prevent internal politics from impeding school transportation reform efforts.

The promise comes amid complaints of unethical conduct by city and school lawyers and the transportation administrator against each other.

"We have worked too long to have anyone or any investigation divert the progress being made," said D.C. Council member Kevin Chavous, Ward 7 Democrat and chairman of the education committee. "If anyone is hindering reform, that person or persons must instantly be removed."

School officials promised action.

"[The school system] takes charges such as those leveled very seriously," said Chief Operating Officer Louis Erste. "We have an obligation to investigate all charges made."

Yesterday, The Washington Times reported that school Transportation Administrator David Healey has accused school system General Counsel Veleter Mazyck and senior corporation counsel for equity and receivership Maria Amato of interfering in a court-ordered transportation audit, personnel matters and reform efforts.

Mr. Healey has been accused of inappropriate behavior and comments by a former transportation technical writer who resigned in February after feuding with the administrator. Michael Gatling, hired in November at $10,000 a month, was about to be terminated by Mr. Healey, when school counsel and senior corporation counsel intervened, according to school sources and the accusations against Mr. Healey.

Last month, Grace Lopes, the mayor's special counsel for receivership and institutional reform litigation, recommended internal investigations of Ms. Amato and Ms. Mazyck by their agencies, and referred all accusations and documents to the D.C. Office of the Inspector General, according to internal memos.

Ms. Amato declined comment except to say she was unaware of any "written accusations." Mr. Healey, Mr. Gatling and Ms. Mazyck were unavailable for comment.

School and city officials declined to confirm any investigation into their employees.

The action is the latest in a series of struggles between the plaintiffs, the transportation administrator, the court-appointed special master and the school system in their attempts to reform an ailing transportation system.

The school system has been trying to fix its broken transportation system for years. Even though the system spends nearly $10,000 on each of the almost 4,000 special education students it transports, it has been unable to get these students to school on time.

In the 1997 class-action lawsuit, Nikita Petties et al. vs. District of Columbia, which resulted in court supervision over the division, the parties agreed to hire a transportation administrator and perform an audit of the department.

Since then, the court-appointed special master, plaintiff counsel and the transportation administrator have expressed increasing frustration that the pace of reform has moved slowly, stalled by interference with other school system employees into personnel decisions, documents show. That interference prompted Mr. Healey to ask the mayor's staff for more support after exhausting avenues in the system.

"Since November 2000, I have requested assistance from DCPS human resources, finance, legal, procurement, labor relations, logistical support, MIS departments and the CITY OF WASHINGTON D.C.," Mr. Healey wrote last month to the new chief operating officer, Louis Erste. "To this date, I have not observed a level of sensitivity and urgency required to exit the Petties Case."

It also prompted plaintiffs to ask for court intervention, concerned that Mr. Healey does not have the "requisite authority" over personnel, budget and operations to meet the requirements of the exit plan for the court case.

"Recent reports by the administrator … indicate that the continued failure to address staffing issues is significantly impeding his ability to move forward," plaintiff attorneys wrote in a court filing two weeks ago. Now, the "power struggle" has turned into "a war of accusations and reputations," one city official said privately.

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