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Durham School Bus Workers Speak Out About Safety, Wage Theft Concerns
ROSEDALE, Md., May 23, 2013 — /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ --
School bus drivers and attendants with Durham School Services who transport students attending Baltimore City Public Schools
joined with Teamsters, political and other community leaders at a rally today to demand respect and safe working conditions.
Durham workers spoke out about workplace safety and service issues that may impact the safe transportation of area schoolchildren.
"I have reported mold problems on our bus for years and the problem is not fixed. I'm scared for the kids on the bus," said Stephanie Urosa, a six-year attendant on a bus for children with special needs. "Some of the children we transport have weakened immune systems and allergies and they don't need to be exposed to this. Mold is just one of a number of safety concerns we have."
In addition to mold, drivers and attendants spoke about fuel leaks, electrical problems, problems with the air brakes and a recent fire on a school bus.
"Safety is paramount. Durham has ignored the workers' concerns about the unsafe conditions of the buses. Making matters worse, workers aren't getting a fair day's pay for a fair day's work. These workers deserve a strong union so their voices can be heard and our kids can be kept safe," said Sean Cedenio, Secretary-Treasurer of Teamsters Local 570 in Baltimore.
"I support the bus drivers and attendants' fundamental right to collectively bargain. In light of the troubling reports about unsafe school buses and serious wage and hour issues, the workers here have a very important voice that should be heard," said J. Ronald DeJuliis, Maryland Commissioner of Labor and Industry.
More than 85 Durham drivers and attendants have signed on to a class-action lawsuit claiming wage theft by the contractor. In the lawsuit filed March 12 with the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, the plaintiffs bring claims to recover wages owed by the company.
"This company has been taking the money we earn. I'm not paid for all of the hours I work and my paycheck hasn't been correct for the last year. We got so tired of reporting these pay issues without the company resolving the problem that the drivers and attendants had no choice but to file a class-action lawsuit to get the pay that we have worked hard for and earned," said Mildred Israel, a Durham driver in Rosedale.
In 2012 Durham workers filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) over surveillance by the company as the workers began to organize to form a union with Local 570. The NLRB found in favor of the workers and issued Durham with a 60-day probation order in March 2013.
While under probation, Durham continued to violate labor laws and the workers were forced to file another unfair labor practice charge on May 1 against the company over illegal surveillance.
About 150 drivers and attendants work for Durham in Rosedale. Durham is the second-largest school bus company in the United States and a subsidiary of National Express Group PLC, a United Kingdom-based multinational transportation company.
Drive Up Standards is a national campaign to improve safety, service and work standards in the private school bus and transit industry. Since the campaign began in 2006, more than 35,700 drivers, monitors, aides, attendants and mechanics have become Teamsters
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On a cool morning in May, as bus 117 rolls towards his driveway, Art Mabry looks down and smiles.
"Give me a kiss and have a good day," he says, briefly locking eyes with his second-grade granddaughter before watching her climb aboard. Moments later, the Warren Township school bus pulls around the corner, carrying Haley Mabry to elementary school – and also carrying a secret.
Like many school buses in Warren Township, bus 117 has a history of serious safety violations. It recently failed its annual safety inspection.
Art Mabry had no idea.
"This is my routine. Every day, I put her on that bus, but I didn't know about any of that," he said, looking at a list of violations state inspectors recently found on bus 117. "Bad brakes? Bad steering? Engine problems? Oil and fluid leaks? If there's those kinds of issues going on, that's just total neglect for the safety of all these little children on these buses."
Bus 117 is certainly not alone.
View safety information on all Indiana school buses
Inspection documents show safety violations involving thousands of school buses all over the state. Many of the violations are for serious safety problems that put hundreds of thousands of students at risk.
Every school bus in Indiana must be inspected at least once per year. It's state law.
Indiana State Police troopers conduct the inspections, which cover all aspects of the vehicle's operation.
Inspectors say detecting mechanical issues is a crucial step in helping to prevent school bus accidents. And if there were to be an accident, state police want to make sure emergency equipment inside the bus is working so students can safely escape.
"I look at every bus as a bus my child would be riding," said ISP motor carrier inspector Chris Kath. "These buses are transporting our children. What's more important than that?"
Kath looks for even minor problems such as holes in seat cushions, broken brackets and trash left on a bus.
But he says it's more serious violations involving brakes, tires, engines, and safety equipment that can result in a bus being classified as Out of Service.
"Out of Service violations are something that could harm the student. It means [the bus] has what we deem a serious safety violation and they cannot transport passengers," he explained.
Indiana State Police tell WTHR no more than 5- to 10-percent of a school district's buses should be placed Out of Service during an annual inspection.
But Eyewitness News has found for many school districts, the Out of Service rate is much higher.
"Wow. That's Terrible"
13 Investigates obtained inspection results for every school bus in Indiana. They show some of Indiana's largest school districts have a horrible safety record when it comes to bus inspections.
Among the worst Out of Service rates in the state:
- M.S.D. Warren Township at 29%
- M&M Bus Company (servicing Muncie Community Schools) at 37%
- M.S.D. Lawrence Township at 40%
- Illinois Central Bus Company (servicing Gary Community Schools) at 49%
"It's a lack of preparation on our part. The buses should have been better prepared," admits Kevin Mest, chief operating officer for Illinois Central. "We should have done better. We're making plans to do better this year."
He says some of the buses that failed last summer's state inspection were never intended to transport Gary school children and are no longer being used for the school district.
But on a recent visit to Gary, 13 Investigates found many of the Illinois Central buses that failed the state inspection are transporting children to and from school.
Bus 504, which was cited by state police for serious brake and steering problems, transports Kerance Jackson to the Banneker Achievement Center elementary school.
Jackson's mother hadn't heard anything about the bus' troubled past.
"Wow. That's terrible. I really just want to go snatch my son off the bus right now," said Keturah Jackson, after seeing a long list of Out of Service violations for the district's school bus contractor.
Mest, who recently joined the bus company, says new management has been hired to ensure better compliance with state safety rules.
"We learned some important lessons. We know our next inspection is coming in June and I am confident we're going to have a very strong inspection," Mest said.
Warren Township Schools offered a vague statement suggesting it is taking action following its poor inspection this spring.
"In response to the bus inspection data given to us by the Indiana State Police we are diligently looking at ways to improve upon our current maintenance practices and processes," wrote M.S.D. Warren Township media relations director Dennis Jarrett. He offered no specifics and did not respond to repeated requests by WTHR to explain why so many buses were placed Out of Service. He did, however, point out all of the school district's buses were eventually approved by ISP.
Kids at risk
It's a fact that poorly-performing school districts and bus companies like to point out after they suffer through a miserable inspection: buses placed out of service are not allowed to transport students until they are fixed, and many problems cited by ISP are fixed quickly.
The problem is, most buses are only inspected once a year, and school districts know ahead of time when it's happening. Yet on inspection day -- the one day you would expect every Indiana school bus to be in the safest condition possible -- state police are still finding some school districts with 20-, 40-, even 50-percent of their buses that fail inspection.
"I think it boils down to maintenance, or a lack thereof," said Kath, shaking his head. "And I wonder how those people still have their jobs and how the school and the school board is allowing it to go on .... They have to know, you're putting a child at risk."
Some school districts -- like Lawrence Township -- admit their maintenance program is not working.
"This is totally unacceptable," said Lawrence Township Schools operations director Rodger Smith, when WTHR asked him about his school district's 40-percent Out of Service rate. "We're going to change what we're doing and how we're doing things."
Smith says since the district's embarrassing inspection in March, there is now a greater focus on fixing all problems on a school bus each time the bus comes to the maintenance garage for service. (In the past, buses were not subjected to full inspections on a regular basis by school mechanics.) But that new policy is unlikely to make a significant dent in the school district's bus
maintenance woes. Smith says his transportation budget has been cut by more than a million dollars annually because of property tax caps that have hit schools hard.
"I'm not saying it's an excuse but it's a pressure all school districts are moving to right now. A lack of budget within our transportation department… think about what kind of pressures that puts on us."
Lawrence Township Schools responded to the pressure by cutting back on bus mechanics. It used to have seven. Now it has only four mechanics to maintain 200 buses. (That 50:1 bus-to-mechanic ratio is much higher than other area school districts.) Some of those mechanics are angry.
"They've cut back on everything," one of the mechanics told WTHR. Several current and former mechanics talked to 13 Investigates. All asked Eyewitness News to withhold their identity for fear of retaliation by the school district. But they are speaking out because they believe fewer mechanics is resulting in more safety problems and more danger on school buses.
"Stuff is happening that shouldn't be happening," said an M.S.D. Lawrence Township mechanic. "Brake chambers bad. Tie rods bad … that's the stopping of the bus. Maybe they are saving a little money, but you can't just put kids at risk."
Eyewitness News has found the number of buses ordered out of service for serious safety violations statewide has jumped 35% over the past 5 years. In 2008, the last time WTHR analyzed Indiana bus inspection statistics, 10% of school buses had been placed Out of Service by state inspectors. The current analysis of all statewide bus inspections shows 13.5% of inspected buses were ordered Out of Service from January 2012 through March 2013.
"We do see a lot of it," Kath said. "It makes you scratch your head sometimes. Our job is to inspect the buses. It's not to be their maintenance department and to tell them what problems they need to fix. It can be frustrating."
Nothing to hide
Other school districts boast very low Out of Service rates. Their school buses seem to sail through state inspections.
Last week, ISP inspectors completed an annual inspection on 39 Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson school buses in less than two hours. Only a single bus failed the inspection when a transmission fluid line burst as inspectors looked under the hood.
"They do things the right way and you can tell that right away," Kath said. "Just about every one of their buses was approved."
The district's superintendent says that's no coincidence.
"We expect 100%," said Matt Prusiecki. "We're not waiting for problems to happen. We try to plan and prevent as opposed to respond and react. It's worked well for us."
The school district has routinely maintained an Out Of Service rate between 2- and 7-percent.
It has two mechanics for 39 buses, and that ratio allows for routine maintenance instead of only focusing on emergency repairs.
While Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson permitted WTHR into its maintenance garage and granted full access to watch and videotape its annual inspections, many other school districts would not grant 13 Investigates any access to their facilities.
"If they're doing things right, there should be nothing to hide," Kath said.
Violations kept quiet
So how will you know if school bus safety violations are up – and maintenance is down – at your child's school district … or if it's just the opposite?
Chances are, you won't. (Actually you will if you keep reading.)
School districts don't publish the information, and neither does Indiana State Police.
ISP and the Indiana Department of Education began working to develop an online school bus inspection program in 2006. Back then, the state agencies told WTHR the program was supposed to provide parents access to bus inspection reports for their children's school buses. Seven years later, IDOE has pulled out of the project and ISP says it isn't sure if – or when – such a database will be ready for the public.
"I wish I could give you a timeframe but I can't," said ISP Sgt. Dave Bursten.
ISP has been working with a private company to establish a hand-held electronic inspection system. Compared to paper and pencil inspection forms, the new system has made school bus inspections far more efficient for state troopers. But the focus of the system has been to help inspectors -- not to make school bus records more accessible to the public.
"Keep in mind, our goal here is not to create something for the public. That is a by-product. Our goal is to create a tool for conducting thorough, efficient, robust school bus inspections as we are required to do by state law," Bursten said.
"Parents should see that"
Many parents, school officials, private bus companies, and even state police inspectors say more public access to school bus inspections is a good idea.
"I would like to be told. I would definitely like to be told what's happening with the bus," said Keturah Jackson.
"I as a parent want to know how my child's bus is maintained," agreed Trooper Kath.
Illinois Central also favors heightened public access to inspection records and welcomes the idea of online reporting. "It was hard to even find the inspection results for our own company," Mest told WTHR. "We support full transparency and think it's appropriate to share full results."
"I think parents should see that information. Of course, they want to know," added Mabry.
Rick Pederson, transportation director for Center Grove Schools, says school districts should be on board, as well.
"Parents have a right to know what their child is being transported on and what the condition of that vehicle is. If it was my child, I'd want to be certain that bus was safe before I put my child on that bus. Yeah, I think it's a good idea."
That's why 13 Investigates has created an online school bus inspection tool.
For the first time, it's all online and all in one place. Take a moment to check the buses in your school district, and to compare its Out of Service rate to other districts around the state.
Courtesy of: Erin Kourkounis @ PNJ.com
A group of Santa Rosa school bus drivers is expected to bring concerns about bus safety and working conditions at Durham School Services to the Santa Rosa School Board Thursday.
During the board’s meeting, which begins at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, members will decide whether to grant Durham a five-year contract to operate district transportation.
In a forum organized by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters union last week in Bagdad, Durham drivers in Milton, Pace and Navarre aired their concerns about workplace safety.
Their concerns ranged from fluid leaks to mold on buses and drivers going to work sick because they cannot afford to take time off. Some drivers say they are yelled at or ignored by supervisors when they bring up concerns.
About 210 Santa Rosa school bus drivers and monitors work for Durham, the second-largest school bus company in the country and a subsidiary of National Express Group PLC, a multinational transportation company based in the United Kingdom.
Courtesy of: Santa Rosa's Press Gazette
The International Brotherhood of Teamsters was in town this week to meet with Santa Rosa County school bus drivers. At a meeting Thursday night, bus drivers voiced concerns over safety of students, citing many complaints over the conditions of school buses used in the county; treatment by management; lack of basic medical first aid training; being forced to work when ill; and being subjected to verbal abuse by management.
Among those concerns drivers reported in notarized affidavits they've experienced black mold in some buses; bald tires—including retreads on the front of the buses; broken seats; broken two-way radios; no air conditioning; and a panic button that didn't work. Some drivers said they do not have the training to handle specific special needs students placed on their buses. Fifteen school bus drivers in Santa Rosa County signed notarized affidavits stating their experiences and concerns dated March/2013.
Diane Bence is a driver in Navarre for Durham and Santa Rosa County who has a three-page affidavit filed with the Teamsters. She appeared at Thursday's meeting to offer testimony about her experiences as a school bus driver. She says she believes 85% of the buses in Santa Rosa County has black mold. She says in August 2012 one driver, Darla Olson was ill from the mold and was nearly hospitalized. She states the brakes on some school buses have squeaking brakes or no brake pressure.
Bence says in 2011, a dash light came on in her bus indicating an engine problem. When she made the mechanic for Durham aware of the issue, she says he told her to "go ahead and drive your route". She says she did and in less than ten minutes, the bus engine died in the middle of the road with children on board. She says she's driven the school bus with a fever of 103 because there are no replacement drivers and dispatchers and supervisor, Bob Downin, make drivers feel guilty and repeatedly call them to see when they are coming back to work. She also notes at times buses are loaded above safe capacity because of a driver shortage.
A document provided by the Teamsters called the National Express Group Summary April 2013. The National Express Group is the parent company of Durham School Services, according to its website. The reports suggests the complaints against Durham are not isolated to Santa Rosa County, but the complaints appear to be the same in other districts. Specifically, the report indicates violations of human rights and worker rights including employees being forced to drive buses while sick and not being paid for all the time they spend taking their buses in for maintenance; or while cleaning or servicing the bus.
"In Santa Rosa, Florida, some workers have had hours they work in excess of 40 hours per week rolled into next week to avoid paying overtime pay—a practice that violates the Fair Labor Standards Act," the report says.
A complaint filed by Dean W. Phinney - organizer of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters filed a charge against Durham, specifically involving Bob Downin, on Dec. 27, 2012. the complaint states: "On or about 12/14/12 at a company sponsored event, area manager Bob Downin, provided a list to unit employees of financial and benefit improvements that were being offered by
Durham School Services. He went on to state that these improvements were only being offered and given to 'non-union' facilities."
There are other complaints filed against the Santa Rosa Durham office alleging surveillance was done on Union organizers and unit employees by photographing/videoing them at the Milton office.
A Teamster report states workers in Santa Rosa County voted to join the Teamsters by a wide margin - a move that the Teamsters say has prompted objections from Durham.
Statement from Durham School Services regarding the Teamsters and the allegations:
"Durham School Services takes the safety of our passengers and employees very seriously. We are disappointed that the Teamsters sought to cast accusations on the safety of our drivers, our equipment and the services we provide through name-calling and use of anecdotal stories with disputed facts.
It is unfair to the public in Santa Rosa that the union used this tactic to incite concern and fear throughout the community when in fact school buses are the safest way for students to get to school and Durham is a leader in safe transportation. School bus drivers are the most highly trained, tested and scrutinized drivers on the road.
We look to our drivers, like the ones in Santa Rosa, not only for safe driving but also to complete thorough pre and post trip inspections and to report any concerns with bus safety, services or working conditions through the multiple reporting channels we have in place.
We will look into the details of the tales told at the meeting but more importantly, we will continue to focus on getting the students of Santa Rosa to and from school safely.”
Courtesy of: By Todd Feathers, Globe Correspondent
No one was injured today when a school bus carrying around 40 students in a Cape Cod town burst into flames.
The bus, owned by First Student Inc., was carrying the students on Route 6 in Bourne around 2:50 p.m. when the driver heard a popping noise from the engine compartment, said Dave Cody, a deputy fire chief in the town.
The driver pulled over to the side of the road and all students aboard were able to evacuate the bus before the engine compartment caught fire, Cody said.
By the time the fire department arrived, the bus was 40 percent engulfed in flames, and the driver and students had already been picked up by another bus, Cody said.
Courtesy of Sandy Hodson/The Augusta Chronicle
Linda Schrenko, Robin Williams and Charles W. Walker Sr. should complete their prison sentences on Aug. 29, 2013, July 20, 2014, and Sept. 26, 2014, respectively — except Walker could be out earlier if his current appeal suceeds.
Schrenko, now 62, was the first woman and the first Republican to hold a statewide political office in Georgia. She served as the state’s schools superintendent for eight years and then made a run for governor.
The 2002 gubernatorial race would lead to Schrenko’s downfall. She stole $600,000 in federal funds set aside for educational services for deaf children and those in the governor’s honors programs. With the help of her boyfriend, deputy and campaign manager, Merle Temple, 63, Schrenko funneled the money into her campaign.
Temple is scheduled to released from prison on Dec. 1, 2012. He is held in a medium-security federal prison in Talladega, Ala. Another associate, Richard Leonard, was sentenced to one year of probation and fined. South African businessman A. Stephan Botes, 54, is scheduled to be released in June 2013. According to his Prison Faces profile, Botes is in a federal prison in Safford,
Williams, 49, served a decade in the state House of Representatives, building consensuses with Democrats like former Senate Majority Leader Walker. He lost his 2000 Republican primary election to political newcomer Sue Burmeister.
Williams schemed to steal more than $2 million from the local community mental health center, one of the only mental health facilities available for poor people. Williams worked behind the scenes to get his friend C. Michael Brockman put in charge of the center and together they directed lucrative contracts to Williams’ friends who in turned kicked back money to Williams. All
were convicted at trial.
Brockman died of cancer before his six-year prison sentence began. M. Chad Long, 40, a lobbyist and grandson of state political heavyweight former House Speaker Tom Murphy, was released from federal custody in January 2008. Former Atlanta Braves pitcher and state lobbyist Rick L. Camp, 59, was released in March of 2008. And Augusta pharmacist Duncan Fordham, 57, was released in February 2009.
Like Williams, Walker is serving his prison sentenced at a medium-security prison in Estill, S.C. Walker, 63, was convicted of 127 felony charges related to various schemes. Walker paid $698,047 in restitution and another $200,000 in fines and court fees.
Walker is scheduled to be released in 2014, but his sentence could be reevaluated after an 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision on Aug. 23 agreed with Walker’s assertion that his appellate counsel failed to argue that his sentence was an unreasonable upward departure from sentencing guidelines.
Full Article: http://chronicle.augusta.com/news/crime-courts/2011-09-25/trio-convicted-augusta-politicians-await-release-prison
Courtesy of: By Bill Crane - WSBRadio.com
"You can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time...but you can't fool all of the people all of the time," President Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865.)
The evolving leadership crisis on our DeKalb County School board is largely coming down to a question of who do you
trust. Sadly, voters across the county, and with leanings in both political directions have a hard time answering that question. Divided government may also deliver regular doses of 'gridlock,' but to some extent the competition of ideas, as well as for voters, can help keep the other side 'honest.' Distrust of state government was in clear view in the results of the summer primary
voting on the T-SPLOST, and then voters flipped that coin with the Charter Schools constitutional amendment in the November General Election.
And as the dust is still settling on both sides of both issues...there is without question a broadening deficit of trust, between voters and their elected officials in both parties.
With the GOP controlling the Governor and Lieutenant Governor's offices, and a virtual lock on Georgia's Constitutional
offices, now might be the time for the GOP to implement its long discussed reforms of a trimmer, more transparent and responsive state government, free of the graft, corruption and "friends and family" politics and alleged contract awarding of their predecessors. Republican appointed stalwarts helm nearly every state agency and outpost, and the party is making further inroads each municipal election year...taking over a majority on county commissions, city councils and local offices such as Sheriff.
But all that said, there is an eerie feeling of unease, not unlike what one felt during 2006 in Washington before the mid-term elections which swept the GOP out of power. The GOP Congress, first elected in 1994 with their Contract for America, were
actually 'about something' larger than their own member wins. The Contract promised eight rather sweeping reforms, ranging from ending the Estate Tax to requiring that members of Congress abide by all the laws which they passed to effect the American people. But by 2006, only three of the ten bills introduced in the U.S. House to make the Contract real had been passed into law. Most voters, including this one, had a hard time understanding the challenge of passing these acts into law, when the GOP held all the keys, levers and throttles of power. So, when the GOP Congress spent like the boys did under Tip
O'Neil, and laid waste to a number of other longtime conservative Republican faithful tenets...voters, including many self-proclaimed Republicans began some record 'house-cleaning' in 2006.
Here in Georgia, the summer Transportation T-SPLOST was beaten back in all but three regions of the state by margins of nearly three to one. A similar margin among voters now exists in opposition to building a new billion plus playground for the Atlanta Falcons, and their billionaire owner, Arthur Blank. Strangely even during a season when the words "Super Bowl" and "Falcons" are not seen as antonyms...voters still note the recession, lagging job creation and other priorities as more pressing
Time and again during the T-SPLOST debacle, voters spoken of the broken promises regarding the Georgia 400 toll, and the horrific implementation of HOT lanes on I-85 North. These two badly managed traffic flow decisions helped cause thousands of commuters to not trust that their state and local officials can actually deliver transportation solutions which work. Criticize Georgia Democrats all you like, but when they ran the show, Georgia's interstates and transportation network were among the envy of the nation.
Budgets are tighter, and our double-digit growth has long since slowed. Some of the challenges we currently face were brought on by the global recession. But there are states climbing out of the hole. There are states where bi-partisan leadership and development of common sense solutions actually occur. There are legislative leaders, even in Washington, D.C. who understand that they may not always be the smartest guys in the room. Breaking trust can occur in minutes, or with one foolish act or poor choice. Re-building trust can take years, even decades. Just ask former Governor Roy Barnes about the state
flag, or his relationship with Georgia teachers at the end of his first term.
The fall from grace can be fast, and is almost always far from graceful.
Online article: http://www.wsbradio.com/weblogs/bill-crane/2013/mar/01/broadening-deficit-trust/
Courtesy of Sandy Hodson/Morris News Service
The Columbia County resident who went from being the first woman elected to statewide public office to falling in disgrace in a corruption trial is now out of prison and headed to a halfway house.
Linda Schrenko, 63, of Appling, served all but about six months of the prison term she received in U.S. District Court in Atlanta for embezzling about $600,000 in federal funds entrusted to the state Department of Education while she was the Georgia state school superintendent.
According to trial testimony in 2006, Schrenko and her deputy superintendent Merle Temple funneled money that was earmarked to help physically disabled children into her failed campaign for governor in 2002.
Temple, South African businessman Stephan Botes and his employee Peter Steyn also were charged for taking part of the scheme. Only Steyn was acquitted of criminal charges.
Schrenko pled guilty to the charge after the trial was underway, and Temple, then a political activist in Augusta, also pled guilty when faced with Schrenko’s willingness to testify against him.
Temple has already completed his eight-year prison term.
Prior to winning the election as state school superintendent in 1998, Schrenko had mounted a failed campaign for Columbia County school superintendent before the position became one hired by the school board. A veteran educator, she previously served as principal of South Columbia Elementary School.
Online article: http://newstimes.augusta.com/latest-news/2013-03-07/schrenko-released-to-halfway-house
Courtesy of: By Michael Vasquez
A private security firm hired to protect Broward school district properties was overbilling for the service, according to an internal audit presented to Broward School Board members Wednesday. The audit documented more than $129,000 in overbilling by Georgia-based U.S. Security Associates, and faulted the district’s “inadequate” oversight of the charges, many of which have been paid.
Among the improper charges: “golf cart” fees that were added to all hours billed, instead of limited to the hours when a cart was actually used; 18 percent late-payment fees, even though no late payment penalties were allowed; and thousands of dollars’ worth of excessive man-hours billed to the district.
“This is another embarrassment to us,” School Board member Ann Murray said. Chimed in board member Patricia Good: “This is so frustrating on so many levels.”
The district plans to subtract some of the overcharges from the company’s final invoice, while also pursuing a refund of $86,460.
U.S. Security Associates could not be reached late Wednesday for comment.
The district’s chief auditor, Patrick Reilly, discovered the overbilling after being asked by Superintendent Robert Runcie to review the U.S. Security contract. Though stung by the audit’s findings, board members said they took solace in the fact that the district initiated the review on its own.
Broward’s school district — run by a relatively new superintendent and a mostly new board — has been trying to shed the baggage of corruption scandals that rocked the school system in previous years.
Board members expressed hope that the district has turned the corner in monitoring its contracts with companies and would be more vigilant in the future. Board Chairwoman Laurie Rich Levinson called the audit part of “our pillar of continuous improvement.”
The district severed ties with U.S. Security in March. The company had been hired to provide after-hours security at bus depots and the district’s administrative headquarters building.
Aside from the extra charges, the company’s actual performance was another problem, the audit found.
“Per discussion with District staff, there were several instances where security guards were found sleeping while on duty,” the audit states.
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