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Peninsula Schools Use Taxis to Transport Special Needs Kids

Kay's Comment: For some students with special needs, taking a cab to school is a better option than taking the bus. This saves this district money, is more reliable, and fewer complaints are filed. The cab drivers are screened and trained to handle "behavior outbursts." The Superintendent declares this a "win- win" for everyone. I'd say it's a win for the students just to keep them off of those "sped buses" that many of them hate so much because of being embarrassed in front of their peers!

By Paul Clinton, DAILY BREEZE

Sammy Fadle pulled his cab up to the curb to park. He scribbled on a clipboard, making notes and calculations about the routes of a passenger he knew well.

Fadle wasn't parked at an airport or hotel. His minivan cab sat in front of Rancho Vista Elementary School in Rolling Hills Estates.

His passenger, a first-grade girl with brown hair in a ponytail, is one of 87 special-education students in the Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School District using taxicabs for transportation to and from school.

The district shifted to cabs three years ago, spurning county-provided buses. The cabs cost less and have proven to arrive on time, Superintendent Walker Williams said.

"It saved us a few bucks, it's a little bit more reliable, and we get less complaints," Williams said. "It's a win-win for us."

Four other South Bay districts also use traditional yellow cabs to meet the federal requirement that all children deserve access to an education. School districts in Hermosa Beach, Manhattan Beach, Redondo Beach and Torrance also use cabs.

The Palos Verdes Peninsula district signs year-to- year contracts with Administrative Service Co-Op, a Gardena management company that hires freelance drivers to ferry the children between school and home.

The taxi drivers who sign up for the service shift their focus from the typical passenger, a businessman heading to the airport for an early flight and must complete extra training to handle behavior outbursts. They usually develop a close relationship with parents.

"These kids vary in their own behavior," Fadle said. "Some of them are hyper, some are quiet."

The drivers must also undergo sensitivity training, background checks similar to teachers and random drug testing, said Joe Viera, project manager.

Citing confidentiality laws, the district declined to provide names of parents using the service.

As required by a 1973 law, school districts must provide transportation to students with handicaps that prevent them from walking to school like their general-education peers.

To become eligible for the transportation, special-education students are individually evaluated.

Of the 1,200 students eligible for the transportation, only 87 use it, said Lynn Busia, administrator of pupil services. Eligible students represent about 10 percent of total enrollment.

The program has been friendlier to the district's budget than when the Los Angles County Office of Education provided the service.

This year, the district's $750,000 cost saves about $100,000 from what the county would charge.

The county contracts with school bus companies Durham and Laidlaw for about 400 buses. Drivers are state- certified, county spokeswoman Margo Minecki stated in an e- mail.

The cost to districts is $6,000 per student over the course of a school year, Minecki wrote. There are also additional costs.

In the Los Angles Unified School District, special- education students are transported using district buses and drivers.

"When it comes to our special-needs children, the first thing we're going to be focusing on is safety and control," said Michael Eugene, LAUSD's business manager. "We want to maintain that safety and control under the auspices of our staff."

The district buses 15,000 students on 1,000 routes. In Local District 8 in the South Bay, 2,131 students use the transportation. Eugene said the buses are "99 percent on time."

— Paul Clinton
Daily Breeze
District saves about $100,000 yearly using trained cabbies rather than the county-based system.




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