Once again, when it comes to decisions made in the North Middlesex Regional School District, residents are left to question those who would have us believe, “it’s all about the kids.”
Recently, members of the NMRSD School Committee, in a 6-2 vote, moved to approve a three-year contract with a relatively unknown Van Pool Transportation for transportation of the district’s special-needs students. The committee’s action severs a more than 20-year relationship with the current transportation provider, McCarty Limo, which was never contacted by the district to provide a quotation for the continuation of its services. Despite initial claims by district administration that the decision was focused on a 10 percent reduction in its current transportation expense, this argument quickly lost ground when it was disclosed that McCarty was willing to match the offer submitted by Van Pool.
So, why was this change made, without professional courtesy to McCarty management and its bus drivers, and, most importantly, without input from the families of special- needs children? During the meeting of the School Committee on May 24, parents, representatives of McCarty and a few School Committee members repeatedly questioned the current director of special education, Linda Rakiey, about the reason behind this abrupt dismissal of McCarty. After considerable questioning, the director admitted that the relationship with McCarty management had become “difficult.” However, in a decision that impacts the consistency so essential to special-needs children, where was the evidence to substantiate this so-called difficulty with McCarty management?
Further, where was the record of ongoing attempts made by members of the special-education staff to rectify these problems? If this relationship was so problematic, why had this issue not been escalated to the School Committee sooner?
Kudos to the McCarty representatives and bus drivers who presented a formidable case, while distributing copies of numerous parent letters and a petition with 500 signatures of concerned residents to the superintendent and members of the School Committee. The testimonies of the parents of special-needs students, who advocated on their children’s behalf, were heartbreaking. Many cited the trust and affection they had for the McCarty bus drivers, whose concern for their children went beyond what was professionally required. In the absence of additional expense to the district, the concerns of these families and their children should have been paramount in the committee’s consideration.
The final insult in the meeting’s proceedings was leveled by Pepperell School Committee representative Sue Fitzgerald, who callously remarked to the parents of special-needs students that like it or not, “change is in their (children’s) future.” Welcome to the real world, kids. How disgraceful.
To the six members of the NMRSD School Committee who voted to move forward on this contract with Van Pool (which has yet to establish a base of operations in the district), and the superintendent, who recommended the committee’s approval: Keep telling yourselves, “it’s all about the kids.” There are many district residents, notably the families of special-needs students and McCarty bus drivers, who beg to differ.