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Boston busing crisis

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It was nudged to the corner of yesterday’s Globe Metro front by the all-important history of a decade of worth of wagers between Tom Menino and various mayors over whose team will prevail in assorted sports championship battles.  And, truth be told, once your eye caught the headline, “Pupil, 6, dropped off at wrong bus stop,” it was easy to pass off the piece as a recurring storyline that seems to pop up every half year or so.

Pause to consider, however, not just what happened last month to 6-year-old Sammy Aaron, but what happened -- or, more precisely, didn’t happen -- afterwards and it ought stir outrage in any parent.

With his mother’s work schedule having shifted, Aaron, a kindergartner at the Mather Elementary School in Dorchester, was slated to take the school bus home for first time on Jan. 4, the first day back after winter vacation.  Though the school had introduced the driver to Sammy and made sure she knew his stop, he mistakenly got off at an earlier stop; according to the story, the driver had been distracted by an incident taking place on the bus.

Fifteen minutes after Sammy’s bus was due at the stop where his mother, Jennifer Smith, was waiting, her cell phone rang and it was stranger who had found Sammy wandering alone near Franklin Park, half a mile from the spot where he mistakenly got off the bus.  They arranged to meet at a nearby fire station, where mother and crying 6-year-old were reunited.

If that chapter ended happily, the same cannot be said for the one detailing how the Boston public schools handled the serious error.  Smith’s repeated calls to school transportation officials went unreturned.  A week later, after a parent who heard about the incident emailed a Globe reporter and told school officials she had done so, Smith got a voicemail from the school department’s transportation director, Michael Hughes, who said the driver would be disciplined and promised to call her back.  Though she tried unsuccessfully to reach Hughes herself two times, Smith says he didn’t call again for weeks -- until a reporter had begun asking school officials about the incident.

A Boston public schools spokesman tells the Globe the driver’s error and the school department’s handling of it were “an unacceptable situation.”  But the only action that appears to have been taken was a one or two day suspension of the driver (it’s not clear why there is uncertainty about its length) and a two-hour training session for her to review bus procedures.

How could a modestly-paid bus driver for the company that contracts with the Boston schools face disciplinary action, while the dysfunctional bureaucracy at the school department that ignored repeated calls for attention to what could have been a life-threatening disaster goes untouched?  Shouldn’t the manager in charge of transportation, who was in the middle of the indifferent reaction to the events, ultimately bear more responsibility than the driver?   

It’s easy to wonder whether such shabby treatment of a family -- with no consequences for those in the municipal chain of command -- would have taken place had this occurred in a well-heeled suburb.  It’s a question someone ought to put to the school superintendent and mayor.

                                                                                                                                                            --MICHAEL JONAS


BEACON HILL

The highest paid public housing directors in the state are from Methuen/Ayer ($184,057), Brockton ($166,527), Cambridge ($165,380), and Somerville ($160,000), the Eagle-Tribune reports.

Gov. Deval Patrick tells the Herald’s Kimberly Atkins that he wants to finish up his term and go make some money, but Atkins says Patrick acts a lot like a guy who’s drawn to Washington.

Peter Koutoujian celebrates a year atop the Middlesex County sheriff’s office.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Gloucester Mayor Carolyn Kirk signs an agreement with the city’s unions that won’t increase health insurance costs for the coming fiscal year, the Gloucester Times reports.

Of the 10 elected positions on the ballot in Bridgewater’s upcoming election, seven are unopposed and no one has pulled nomination papers for other three posts.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

New York and California are close to signing on to a nationwide foreclosure settlement, after negotiators dropped a provision that would have given banks broad immunity for past misdeeds.

The nation’s Catholic bishops are mobilizing the laity to protest President Obama’s health care mandate that religious organizations have to offer insurance plans that cover abortions, contraception and other procedures that run counter to their doctrines.

Is the Tea Party dead? The Daily Beast asks.

When it comes to progressive taxation, Massachusetts is hardly a haven of redistributionist socialism. In fact, we rank behind Mississippi, reports Mother Jones, via BlueMassGroup.

ELECTION 2012

One day he’s inevitable, the next he’s not, but Mitt Romney is back on the inevitable side of pundits with his convincing win in the Nevada caucuses on Saturday.

A financial manager and mother of two from Norwell will challenge Sen. Robert Hedlund of Weymouth, one of the longest serving Republicans in the Senate.

CHARITY

Wealthy donors increased their charitable gifts in 2011 over the previous year, though still down from pre-recession, and the Chronicle of Philanthropy lists the top 50 in generosity.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

The clean energy sector is booming, according to state Energy and Environment Secretary Richard Sullivan.

Four top economists tell Governing that they don’t expect the jobless rate to keep falling this election year.

The AFL-CIO is testing a new TV ad designed to appeal to young people, NPR reports.

Time sums up the Super Bowl well: A tale of two passes.

Winter farmers markets get state funding.

Newt Gingrich’s BFF, Sheldon Adelson, is raking it in.

Developer Joe Fallon is pushing ahead with condos on Fan Pier in South Boston.

EDUCATION

The Boston public schools wade into the world of merit pay for teachers.

The Globe, in a Sunday editorial, urges the Legislature to hold firm and support Gov. Deval Patrick’s  reform proposal for the state’s 15 public community colleges against the onslaught of resistance from campus leaders and their allies. In speculating on why some legislators may be cool to the governor’s plan, the paper raises the specter of patronage considerations figuring in the mix.  Western Mass employers are not excited about the plan.

Today’s editorial page, meanwhile, questions Mitt Romney’s embrace of for-profit higher education, which the paper says shows dismal returns on investment for many of its students, something it thinks should bother businessman Romney.

Duh, UMass Amherst: Students riot after Super Bowl loss.

TRANSPORTATION

Transportation Secretary Richard Davey, appearing over the weekend on Keller@Large, says there’s no way around fare hikes to close the T’s budget gap and he defended his agency’s stance to wean the Greenway Conservancy off the public dole. The Globe’s Starts & Stops column on Sunday offered this primer on the how the T deficit got this bad.

The Steamship Authority is taking a fresh look at restoring freight service between New Bedford and Martha’s Vineyard.

In addition to possible fare hikes and service cuts, cities and towns with MBTA service will be getting less but paying more under Gov. Deval Patrick’s budget which increases T assessments for communities.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

Many conservatives, including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, are rethinking the war on drugs, Governing reports.

MEDIA

Friday’s Beat the Press airs a piece of the slugfest that had been dropped from earlier in the week between former Herald columnist Peter Lucas and George Regan, Mayor Kevin White’s former press secretary, over whether White intentionally misled Lucas 30 years ago. Over the weekend, retired Globe reporter and editor Walter Robinson, who was City Hall bureau chief at the time, penned a piece that backs Lucas’s version of the story and paints Regan as playing loose with the truth.

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