- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 9, 2006

A federal judge has decided that the D.C. Board of Education was wrong to reject a labor deal last fall with 1,350 part-time school-bus attendants.

U.S. District Court Judge Paul L. Friedman approved the deal Friday.

He also gave sole authority in brokering new and existing labor deals to David Gilmore, the court-appointed administrator in charge of the school system’s troubled transportation division.

Judge Friedman ruled that “neither the superintendent nor the District of Columbia Board of Education has authority” to disapprove of labor deals negotiated by Mr. Gilmore.

In November, the board voted down the contract Mr. Gilmore brokered with bus attendants represented by Local 1959 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

The board said Mr. Gilmore exceeded his authority when he entered into the labor deal “without the involvement or approval” of the school system.

Mr. Gilmore sought a court order to approve contracts without permission from the school board. He cited “significant obstacles” in dealing with the board.

Mr. Gilmore was appointed to lead the school system’s special-education transportation division in 2003 through a consent order in a class-action lawsuit filed by parents of special-education students.

Judge Friedman ruled that the school board’s vote to reject the bus attendants’ labor deal “violates the consent order and is null and void.”

Under Mr. Gilmore, the transportation division gives rides to more than 4,000 students on 617 bus routes.School officials and Mr. Gilmore have been at odds formonths.

Mr. Gilmore has requested $72.8 million to run the program, but the school board in November approved $61.2 million and called for a review of the division’s spending.

Last month, the school system balked at paying consulting and legal fees incurred by the transportation division.

Mr. Gilmore blamed high transportation costs on trips to too many schools, with many bus routes in Virginia and Maryland.

“The true savings lie in the elimination of [bus] routes, not in making them a little more efficient,” Mr. Gilmore testified during a March 28 hearing before the D.C. Council Committee on Education, Libraries and Recreation.

Mr. Gilmore noted that 17 students are picked up each day from a building on North Capitol Street and taken to 16 different schools by 16 buses.

Each bus costs about $100,000 a year to operate.

He said he is encouraged that the school system is moving to keep more special-education students in neighborhood schools instead of busing them to facilities as far as 60 miles away.

Schools Superintendent Clifford B. Janey “indeed has included this issue fairly prominently in his master education plan, and I congratulate him for that,” Mr. Gilmore said.

Mr. Janey said he is working on a plan to create more “inclusive learning environments within school buildings.”

Carolyn Graham, vice president of the school board, said the school system wants the transportation division to cut costs so more money can go toward local school budgets.

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