|Elizabeth Rose's nine-year run in the city school system is over. (Go Nakamura for New York Daily News)|
..... the caseload has been reduced somewhat after the unit was moved out of OPT to the Office of Special Investigations in the wake of the busing scandal. Officials say allegations of bus driver and matron misconduct will now be investigated by the same office and process as all DOE employees......Sources with knowledge of the situation said that allegations of lesser offenses, including actions without the potential to harm children, are being routed to customer service representatives.
NY City Council held a hearing on the issue of school busing:
Video on the OPT testimony
City's yellow-bus contracts boss pushed out as companies say routes go unstaffed
EXCLUSIVE: NYC schools chancellor fires top deputy over bus scandal
DOE honcho gets moved after boneheaded busing decisions
Facing his first crisis, Carranza fired a top official. But can he fix New York City’s yellow bus system?
FBI investigation finds corruption in NYC school bus industry
|The top official in charge of the Office of Pupil Transportation, Eric Goldstein, was axed. |
(Bryan Pace for New York Daily News)
Elizabeth Rose was moved. As if this would solve the problem.
Chancellor Carranza, this is New York City. We are different. We were the home to TWEED, before it became the home to the NYC DOE and your office.
Need I say more (I do, and probably will).
Editor, NYC Rubber Room Reporter
Editor, New York Court Corruption
Editor, National Public Voice
Editor, NYC Public Voice
Editor, Inside 3020-a Teacher Trials
Exclusive: Former head of DOE Investigations says he got push-back from higher-ups for more closely vetting school bus drivers
Ralph Manente, a modest, retired NYPD lieutenant and detective squad commander with a shock of white hair, labored for 10 years as boss of the unit.
After the Daily News reported rampant problems with no-show or late buses and the hiring of drivers with serious criminal records, the DOE ordered a revamping of the city's massive $1.2 billion yellow bus system. The top official in charge of the Office of Pupil Transportation, Eric Goldstein, was axed and Deputy Chancellor Elizabeth Rose was moved out.
Manente, who retired last week when he turned 65, felt his work was a public service. "We tried to put ourselves in the parents' shoes," he said. "We weren't going to put someone on a bus that we wouldn't be comfortable with if our kids were on that bus."
A handful of investigators were obligated to probe about 8,000 complaints a year, Manente said. Among them, a mom who griped that her son came home without socks and another who groused that her child came off the bus with his shirt on backwards.
The policy of looking into everything, Manente said, put a strain on the office.
"If a bus driver rolled his eyes or didn't say good morning to a parent, we had to investigate it," he said. "It took us away from concentrating on the more serious cases."
About 18 months ago, Manente directed former NYPD Detective Eric Reynolds to do pre-employment background checks on drivers. At the time, criminal records checks were limited to only 13 counties in New York State.
Reynolds found that far too limited, broadened his checks and had drivers come in for interviews. He learned troubling information about an alarming number of applicants andrejected them with Manente's approval.
"He took it to a new level," Manente explained. "After a while, the bus companies started complaining and we started getting resistance from (head of safety) Paul Weydig and people in contracts. In essence, Eric had bucked the system unknowingly by looking further into the vetting process and that slowed down the hiring."
Then in April, as The News has reported, Reynolds suddenly stopped getting new applications. Unknownst to him, a worker in the contracts office started rubber-stamping drivers using Reynolds' signature and email address. More than 720 people were approved between April and September as a result.
Reynolds was then told his waiver to receive a police pension and work for the DOE would not be renewed in December. Manente says Weydig also ordered him to give Reynolds a letter of reprimand, but he refused.
"I believe Eric was retaliated against for shining a spotlight on this," Manente said.
Weydig also resisted Manente's calls to fire investigators whose work wasn't up to snuff, Manente explained.
"Whenever I had an investigator who was not performing, I had a better chance of winning the lottery on a Saturday night that getting Weydig's assistance in terminating that person," he said, adding that he to go over Weydig's head to cut people loose, and that caused some animosity between the two men.
Weydig did not respond to requests for comment.
Manente, who spent 25 years with the NYPD, said he also suspects that OPT contracts officials and the bus companies are too close.
"The pressure to have these drivers and attendants approved as quickly as possible only indicates to me that contract compliance was being pressured by the bus companies and shows me there's some sort of comfort level with the vendors," Manente said.
Three years ago, City Controller Scott Stringer asked the Justice Department to investigate possible collusion between bus companies. Stringer charged that the DOE made the city vulnerable to collusion with poor monitoring of the contracts and vendor performance.
In a statement, DOE spokeswoman Miranda Barbot said, "We take the safety of our students on school buses extremely seriously, and every current and former bus driver underwent a rigorous background check and fingerprinting process before they were hired, including an FBI criminal history review. We've hired a new leader to oversee our Office of Pupil Transportation, and all school bus drivers now undergo two separate background checks and two separate fingerprint reviews."
Manente thinks background inquiries should includea more thorough check using FBI databases, a search of the NYPD's domestic violence database, court filings, the sex offender registry and whether or not there were 911 dispatches to his home.
"I've wanted to do this since 2008," Manente said. "As it stood, we wouldn't know if a driver got arrested in California or even New Jersey and that's information we need."
Manente also advocates for a reduction in the misconduct caseload. "We shouldn't be investigating every little complaint," he said. "The serious investigations should be emphasized."
Investigators tell The News that the caseload has been reduced somewhat after the unit was moved out of OPT to the Office of Special Investigations in the wake of the busing scandal. Officials say allegations of bus driver and matron misconduct will now be investigated by the same office and process as all DOE employees.
Sources with knowledge of the situation said that allegations of lesser offenses, including actions without the potential to harm children, are being routed to customer service representatives.