There are many wonderful things about the Austintown Local School District. From my experience, the teachers and principals are professional, extremely competent and truly have the best interests and welfare of the children in their care as their highest priority. Their dedication and performance have resulted in extremely high academic accolades for this school district including an Excellence with Distinction rating for our district. These educators are world class, and we are truly lucky to have them. However, there are some very serious problems in this school district.  And if not corrected, these problems could result in the death or serious injury of some of our children.

I, a group of more than 400 parents, and one board member (Harold Porter) have been working for over a year to get the Board of Education and Superintendent to acknowledge and repair critical safety issues regarding the busing system, crossing guard system, and other very serious safety issues that threaten the very lives of our children.  The “old guard” majority of the board of education and Superintendent have denied, lied, and actively hindered us at every turn in getting reasonable resolution to the concerns that have been presented. The latest incident of our transportation director being cited by the Ohio State Highway Patrol for operating buses in an unsafe manner on public roads is a perfect example of the problems we have encountered.

On October 4th, a bus driver and the Director of Transportation were cited by Lt. Marvin Hill of the OHP for violating section 4511.76 of the Ohio Revised Code. They were cited for transporting students on public roads in an unsafe manner due to over-crowding on the bus. As if that weren’t bad enough, the truly disturbing events surrounding this incident are what the Transportation Director, Superintendent, and Board of Education did (and didn’t do) following this incident. In a well-run school district, after an incident such as this, logic dictates that an internal investigation take place to determine whether this was an isolated incident, or a chronic situation that needs to be addressed.  If the latter, suggestions would be presented to the Superintendent and Board of Education of possible solutions to the problem, action would be taken to correct it, and follow-up would be performed to ensure that the issue has been resolved. In the case of this issue, I know of many parents that have complained to the transportation department about over-crowding to the point that their kids actually were required to sit on the floor. Through Requests for Public Information, I requested all reports, communications (including e-mails) and any other documentation related to this incident.  The district is legally mandated by the Ohio Sunshine laws to provide this information, and based on what was received from the school district, the following is what happened in ALSD after the above incident.

The transportation director wrote an e-mail to the Superintendent essentially stating “It is impossible to determine who is riding when I put these routes together. I also continue to repair bad data due to poor communication between departments” and “the State Highway Patrolman has blown this completely out of proportion.”  And then…….. that’s it.  Nothing else was done. The Superintendent did not reply questioning what the plan was to resolve the routing and data issues.  The BOE Community Liaison, Kathy Mock, and BOE President David Schnurrenberger did not direct the superintendent to investigate this incident and resolve any issues that were discovered.  The issue was completely dropped internally and nothing was done after the primary law enforcement agency in the State ofOhiotold ALSD, in no uncertain terms, that we have some safety issues that need to be addressed.

The Superintendent went on TV later that day saying something to the effect of “the capacity of the school bus was not exceeded”. What he didn’t say was, and this is very clear in the citation, the citation was not for exceeding the capacity of the bus.  The citation was issued because the kids were seated 3 to a seat and they were too big to fit behind the seatback barriers in front of them.  i.e. If the bus had an accident or had to stop suddenly, those kids essentially sitting in the isles, would have been thrown forward causing serious injury.  This is the pattern of this superintendent, spin and misdirection.  He avoids the issue by claiming innocence on some other issue or trying to divert attention elsewhere.  He has followed this pattern religiously for the past year when we have brought up issues at BOE meetings.  He has repeatedly insinuated that I personally, by name in a recorded public meeting, have some kind of grudge against the teachers and staff of ALSD.  This assertion is ridiculously untrue, as he well knows. But he tries none-the-less to minimize the safety issues I present by claiming how “offensive” our concerns are to him personally.

The transportation director essentially told the media that it was the kid’s fault.  She has learned well from her boss.  Instead of maturely accepting responsibility and fixing the safety issue, she places blame elsewhere, questions the integrity of the police officer involved, and does nothing to fix the problem.

There’s more to the transportation director part of this story.  After this incident, I contacted Lt. Hill from the OHP. He struck me as a very intelligent and professional police officer.  He told me right off the bat that he didn’t like citing the school district, but the situation was serious enough that he thought it was necessary.  He also told me that during his interview with the transportation director, she told him that there had been very few parent complaints regarding safety issues with the ASLD busing system. He was very surprised and interested to learn that for the past year, there has been a Web site (www.safebusing.com) and a Facebook group (Austintown Schools Bus Parents) devoted to trying to resolve the many safety complaints that parents had first contacted the transportation department about, but had been unsuccessful in getting resolution to.  Lt. Hill asked for the particulars of these groups and told me he would be investigating further.

The most significant problem with this whole episode and with all the other safety issues brought before the BOE and administration for the past year, is where is the over-sight?  The current BOE is intimately aware of the practices and tactics of this superintendent and his transportation director.  Even though it is their sole responsibility to represent the public’s views and issues to the administration, they have done nothing to investigate this issue. On previous safety issues, Kathy Mock has actively instituted a delay campaign in the hopes that we would eventually lose interest and openly spoken about it to other board members. This is not the behavior we expect or deserve from our elected officials.  With the exception of Mr. Porter, the current BOE does not act in the best interests of the people of Austintown and should be replaced by members who have genuine public service and the welfare of the children of our community as their highest priority.