By DENISE Dick
An Ohio Department of Education review of the city schools transportation department found incomplete driver and vehicle maintenance records, nonexistent vehicle repair records and no documentation of required bus driver training.
Krish Mohip, who started as the district’s chief executive officer June 29, became aware of problems with transportation after the report’s release. The issues are being addressed, and a corrective plan is being developed, he said.
“We’ll be providing students with transportation that is on time, efficient and safe,” he said.
ODE officials reviewed the department on May 25 and May 26, issuing the report about a month later, noting that similar reviews have been done since 2006 to analyze efficiencies, but recommendations weren’t followed.
“Driver’s [sic] records and required training support documentation were found to be incomplete, inconsistent or missing,” the report said. “A December 2015 review of driver’s [sic] found no drivers were compliant for required training and driver certifications...”
The report doesn’t identify the responsible party or parties for the department’s deficiencies. Mohip said he’s not interested in assigning blame — he just wants the problems fixed.
The problems cited aren’t new, according to an ODE spokeswoman.
“The Youngstown City School District’s transportation issues go back several years,” Brittany Halpin wrote in an email. “The department conducts regular desk audits for driver compliance. Irregularities were identified through those reviews in 2012 and during 2015 where significant missing documentation was identified. Throughout the years, the department worked with the district to correct any issues, however, more continued to arise as others were fixed.”
After passage of House Bill 70, also called the Youngstown Plan, ODE was asked to assess YCS’s transportation operations, the spokeswoman said.
She said several ODE divisions were working in the city schools last year, reviewing the special education department and the academic distress commission and the department’s transportation office was brought in, Mohip said.
“We’re actively working with the district to get all drivers compliant for the start of the 2016-2017 school year,” she said.
A May ODE review of 35 drivers’ files found none completely compliant and during ODE representatives’ bus and driver observation, two buses didn’t comply with required safety procedures.
Buses loading and unloading on school grounds “lacked building supervision,” the report said.
It also noted “inconsistent or nonexistent records of required annual driver training programs.
“More than 76 drivers lacked the required annual training supporting documentation” as required by law, the report said. “No records could be found substantiating that the required number of annual in-service hours of training had been accomplished.”
Mohip said ODE and the Ohio State Highway Patrol are working with the district, allowing more time to meet the requirements and to help to correct problems.
“I’m really proud that our drivers all pulled together,” he said.
They weren’t aware of missed training deadlines, the CEO added.
While the district has bus routing software, it’s not being used to its full extent, reviewers wrote, citing a lack of software training and lack of updated hardware as contributors.
Further, “51 route sheets were hand-written and all 51 were incomplete and are noncompliant,” according to the report. “Student rosters were non existent and directions for each route were incomplete or missing entirely. Incomplete instructions, missing bus stop locations and assigned times were prevalent on all 51 route sheets.”
Mohip said routing issues are being addressed as well. The software will enable him to see when and where drivers stop, how long they stay there and whether drivers use bus stop signs.
“Parents will be able to monitor where the buses are in real time,” he said.
Under fleet operations, ODE found no record of completed work or labor costs for school bus maintenance.
“Vehicles at the beginning of the school year for 2015-16 were not ready, and the OHSP worked with ODE to ensure safety inspections were performed,” ODE reported. “Once again, for the 2016-17 school year, vehicles will not [be] ready for inspection” as required by law.
ODE reviewers also found issues with the department’s expense reporting.
“In reporting expenses for transportation, it was found that one-half of district expenses paid for special-needs services but only 37 percent of total student ridership was provided service,” reviewers said.
Vehicle maintenance requests lacked tracking or progress or completion of service work, according to the report.
“Overtime payments for two mechanics working as bus drivers were also on the clock; referred to as blended rate, when wages were paid for both job classifications.
“One mechanic in question is not certified/qualified to be a driver.”
Mohip said he will continue to study the report.
“We need to find out if these are systemic issues or it’s happening because of a lack of oversight,” he said.