- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 31, 2002

City officials are recommending against a contract extension for D.C. schools transportation administrator David Healey, saying he has failed to improve the ailing department after 15 months on the job.
According to school officials and documents, Elise Baach, the court-appointed special master for school transportation, and D.C. school officials have said Mr. Healey's usefulness to reform efforts is over.
Mr. Healey reports to Superintendent Paul L. Vance and to the court. His original contract expired in August and a temporary extension expires today.
Advocates of special-education students say Mr. Healey has run afoul of officials because like other administrators before him he is trying to implement change.
"They bring in someone from the outside, then they make it impossible for them to do their job," said Beth Goodman, attorney for the special-education student plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit against the city. "They lay the blame on them for the lack of change."
Miss Goodman said she would appeal the decision not to extend Mr. Healey's contract. The matter most likely will be discussed at a court hearing tomorrow.
Miss Baach was unavailable for comment.
Mr. Healey said his contract has expired and he would be moving on. "I have absolutely loved working with the schools and the civic leaders and parents," he said. "I think we are not where we want to be but have made tremendous progress."
The school system transports almost 3,700 special-education students to 232 D.C. centers and 82 facilities in Maryland and Virginia, at a cost of about $10,000 per child each year.
For years, the transportation system has been crippled by buses that run late, long ride times and safety lapses. The court intervened in 2000 and ordered the school system to hire a temporary transportation administrator to reform the system. Mr. Healey arrived in October 2000, with a finance expert and a technical writer at a cost of almost $400,000.
Last spring, Mr. Healey told The Washington Times that reform has been slow in a department beset by absenteeism, nepotism, unqualified workers and payroll errors.
School officials credit Mr. Healey with creating an effective budgeting system, recruiting more qualified employees and making the division more customer-service oriented.
Still, 30 percent to 40 percent of buses continue to run late and one-fifth of bus drivers and attendants are no-shows on any given day, transportation workers say.
And while there has been incremental progress, there is no overall plan for improvement, school officials say.
"I don't see a clear exit strategy to get our of [the lawsuit]," said D.C. school board member Tommy Wells. "Whether Healey is a problem or not, I am not satisfied that we are progressing at the rate we need to."
Some say Mr. Healey's initiatives would not have been able to correct problems at the core of the system until human resources, finance and procurement processes are revamped.
"No one can make that system change," said Sharon Raimo, executive director of St. Coletta School in Alexandria, which teaches D.C. special-education students. "No one is ever able to fire the incompetent people that work underneath. So it results in new heads every year and it never makes a difference."
She called Mr. Healey's departure a "disaster" and attributed it to "his telling the truth."
"Sure, he wasn't perfect," she said. "But he was the only one I could call when things happened. He would take care of them right away."

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