DePasquale Releases Audit On Crestwood Bus Problems
Crestwood School District failed in its legal duty to ensure that bus drivers were cleared to transport students and entered a 20-year bus contract with annual raises and other unfavorable terms, a state audit said.
Auditor General Eugene DePasquale released the audit Wednesday and a copy is on the district’s website.
In assessing the failure to keep records on file for bus drivers, the audit found fault with school administrators, a bus company and the school board.
Missing records led Crestwood to cancel class for two days, release two administrators and put students at risk, the audit said.
Read the audit here.
When auditors asked to see the criminal background checks and child abuse clearances for bus drivers, Crestwood officials said they didn’t keep those records.
The primary bus contractor, Rinehimer Bus Lines, Slocum Twp., did not have copies of the required drivers’ licenses for more than two-thirds of its 46 drivers, the audit said.
Uncertainty about clearances led the district to close school on Oct. 24 and 25, 2018 and delay the start of school for two hours on Oct. 26, 2018. Also the board put Joseph Gorham, the superintendent then, and Director of Operations Christopher Gegaris on paid leave through the end of this school year, after which their ties to the district end.
“The lack of oversight by the district not only resulted in lost education days and turnover of its administrative leadership, it also put district students at risk of harm,” the audit said.
The audit found 41 of 46 records for bus drivers were incomplete. Files were missing for physical exams of 31 drivers, arrest and conviction reports of 22 drivers, federal criminal histories of 10 drivers and child abuse clearances of nine drivers. For 31 driver’s licenses, the “S” endorsements required to drive a school bus weren’t on file.
Within two days, district officials and Rinehimer obtained all the required records and verified that none of the drivers had been ineligible to transport students.
“If there was somebody in violation that could have been a humongous liability and, who knows, it could have been a tragic end. That’s the biggest concern,” Crestwood school board President Bill Jones said.
The auditors found that the district’s transportation policy was out of date because it didn’t require drivers to complete an arrest and conviction report that the state required since 2011.
Rinehimer failed to comply with its contract by not maintaining records for drivers, and the school board placed too much reliance on administrators when approving a list of drivers for this year.
“The board should have implemented some procedure to verify that the administrators were monitoring the contractors,” the audit said.
The board considered the list of drivers and approved it by an 8-0 vote at its Aug. 16, 2018, meeting.
Auditors said Crestwood should update its transportation policy, develop written procedures so that drivers’ records receive ongoing, routine reviews and train workers who maintain files about laws and regulations regarding clearances.
District officials received a draft of the audit March 12 and said they have already updated transportation polices, cut ties with administrators and terminated the contract with Rinehimer, which was extended through June 30.
Crestwood also is developing written procedures for submitting clearances and establishing training for workers who update personnel files for transportation operators.
“We certainly put the safeguards in to make sure that every single person, not just the bus drivers, has the clearances and that everybody’s clearances are reviewed every year,” Jones said.
When reviewing the contract with Rinehimer, the auditors said the length of the contract, with automatic extensions every five years, prevented Crestwood from seeking competitive pricing.
The contract gave Rinehimer the first right of refusal. That meant Rinehimer could have entered a contract under terms that Crestwood offered to another bus company, which discouraged competition. Also Crestwood said the $2 million base rate of the contract was a 3% increase from the previous year, but annual increases of 3% disregarded factors such as numbers of buses, miles traveled, students transported and days traveled.
The Pennsylvania Department of Education considers those factors when reimbursing districts for busing and Rinehimer’s previous contract was based on state reimbursement.
The base fee was insufficiently defined to justify a fuel surcharge that Crestwood paid to Rinehimer every month, the audit said.
In reply, Crestwood said it sought competitive proposals from companies. But as school was about to begin in the summer of 2016, the company hired realized it didn’t have enough drivers to fulfill the contract. That forced the district to quickly enter a contract with Rinehimer at unfavorable terms.
For 2019-20, Crestwood said it already is seeking new proposals from bus companies. The next contract will exclude automatic spending increases or renewals but require the company to provide updated clearances for drivers at the start of every year, the district said.
During an April 19 meeting, the school board entered a term sheet, a preliminary step toward a contract, with another bus company, Davis Transportation, which board members said would save $400,000 a year.
Crestwood also has been talking with Rinehimer.
“We told them what we’re looking for. Certainly that contract they had was unsustainable,” Jones said. “So they have a chance to come in and propose a new contract.”
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■ Debt in Crestwood School District rose $69 million from $17.5 million between 2013 and 2017, a state audit found.
■ Crestwood’s fund balance slipped to $4.8 million from $6 million in that span.
■ After taking in more revenues than it spent in 2013 and 2014, Crestwood drew from its surplus the next three years.
■ Students in Crestwood scored higher than the state averages on Keystone exams in high school and PSSA tests in elementary and middle schools.
■ Crestwood’s graduation rate in 2016-17 was 97.6%, whereas the state average was 89.5%.
■ The audit also reviewed school safety, but rather than put those findings in the public report the auditors shared information with district officials, the state Department of Education and other officials.
— Kent Jackson