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School board candidates bash transportation audit delay

By Staff | Jun 12, 2010

Two candidates for the Lee County School Board held a political rally Friday morning outside of the Lee Education Center to protest the delay of the Lee County School District’s transportation audit.
In February the school board approved a $76,000 audit of the county’s busing system through Transpar, a national student transportation consultant. That audit was supposed to be concluded on or about April 15. The release of the audit has since been delayed and now Superintendent James Browder said it won’t be ready until September.
“I extended it until September, and I think we will get the report quicker than that,” said Browder. “We are going to take it, analyze it and see what we can do to improve or save money.”
Browder said he isn’t going to use the audit results to change starting times or school assignments for the 2010-2011 academic year because the district already finalized its plans.
Cape Coral resident John Traube, who is running for the District 1 school board seat, said he is concerned about the extension of the audit contract.
“It seems if they were going to change the terms of the contract, he (Browder) should have come back to the board,” said Traube. “How can you have a contract, violate it and not let the public know about changing the terms?”
The school board District 4 candidate protesting the audit’s delay, Don Armstrong, said he contacted TransPar and was told about a lack of scheduling and coordination between TransPar and the school district.
A statement from the district said staff is not delaying or doing anything to extend the audit process.
Armstrong said the busing issue became personal after the district told him his child would have to ride a bus for three-and-a-half hours to school each day. He tried to enroll his child at Caloosa Elementary, only a mile from his home, but the district told him that the only available seat is at Hector A. Cafferata Jr. Elementary.
The district’s transportation budget is $50 million and during this school year a group of parents began addressing the school board on their concerns because some students were on the bus too long each day.
District officials said that most students get their first choice school and that some are on the bus longer because they chose a school farther away from home.
Eighty-four percent of students were assigned to their first choice — those who registered between January and March — in the assignment process.
Browder said the protest over the delay is political and that a similar audit in Orange County took seven months to complete.
“What does this have to do with ending a school year on a positive note?” said Browder. “The bottom line is I don’t have any reason to have something be held up.”
He recently notified TransPar that district staff would be available to work on the audit when students left for the summer.
“The reality is we couldn’t get it done in that amount of time and I don’t want it done slipshod,” he said.
An official statement from the district released on Thursday said officials from TransPar and Lee County agreed the deadlines established in the contract would be set aside to make sure the audit was finished in a thorough fashion. The district expects an update on the issue at a board briefing meeting on June 22.