They don't take off for Destin knowing there is an oil leak in their SUV, and they'd be horrified if their tire fell off half way there, or if they knew their mechanic was told by his boss to fudge on repairs.
But many seem to have shrugged off reports of these situations with our school buses. My guess is they feel helpless in holding the players responsible; how many honorable organizations scoff at grand jury investigations and stay in business?
I'm also guessing such a low percentage of parents read newspapers these days, their only impressions of the department comes from the drivers, who most often do such a good job representing the CCSD that parents aren't aware of the issues behind the scenes.
Since the start of this school year, Cobb citizen grand juries have seen fit to investigate the district three times, with the last two investigations focusing on Rick Grisham and Mike Warner's transportation department.
The first scathing report, issued in early March, called for accountability, more investigation and numerous changes in this publicly funded, high budget department. As a columnist and mom, my initial concerns and the focus of three or four columns since last December had been bus and shop safety issues. But the elephant in the parlor, looming large, has always been the way your children's drivers are treated.
Grand Jury No. 2 said this:
"It must be noted that the drivers and mechanics work in an environment of intimidation and 'virtual fear' of losing their jobs - it is palpable and we heard and saw it time and time again," jurors wrote. "It is high time that the School Board and all levels of management below them hear and understand this. To allow this atmosphere to continue unabated is the grossest form of mismanagement."
The grossest form of mismanagement. Yet it seems that while hundreds of stellar CCSD employees are being fired despite their excellence, others live in a protected bubble and can get away with just about anything, as transportation managers are still there and defiant as ever, according to sources.
After and despite the jury reports, I continue to receive calls and hear stories from drivers and mechanics that have been targeted by management and live in fear for their jobs almost every day, especially, it seems, the longtime drivers not hired by the current team. I even hear from drivers whose subsequent jobs, post-CCSD, have been targeted by vindictive former managers and HR representatives.
One young mom, a bus driver for 16 years, 12 of them in Cobb, had successfully juggled classes at KSU and her job as a driver until just recently. A junior majoring in middle school education, she was fired recently and her story is representative of how many transportation employees have been treated since Grisham and Warner were hired.
Starr Harvey drove her route as instructed for Pitner Elementary, Palmer Middle and Kell High Schools for four years. Students and parents loved her, and her dedication to them was returned. Last year, she'd planned to attend President Obama's inauguration festivities and took vacation time, but when she heard there was a snafu with her sub driver the first scheduled day out, she decided to forego her dream trip and return to work early. She couldn't bear that her kids had been left waiting at their stops.
She says the first indication of any problem came last year before BusRadio shut down, when her boss, Vickie Swanson, called her out for not playing the controversial programming.
The next thing you know, she says, they were trying to transfer her route, a typical tactic I've heard about many times, used to keep drivers in line. They also give favored drivers the better buses.
When the Pitner principal and other parents came to Harvey's defense, however, she was kept at her route. My theory is that didn't do much to popularize her with the bosses.
Then she attended the school board meeting last February at which the new and controversial GPS system was discussed. She believes, as do many transportation employees, that being at a board meeting or trying to correspond with a board member made her a larger target.
A correlation can be made between employees who attend or speak at board meetings and those who get fired, case in point the federal civil rights lawsuit filed by veteran driver Wanda Smith in March.
Smith began regularly speaking during the public comment portion of school board meetings in 2008, expressing opposition to spending $2 million for bus tracking systems as well as raising concerns about the safety of new special needs buses.
According to her suit, "Grisham accused Smith of blind-siding him with her comments and stated Smith should not have raised her concerns publicly."
The suit says Smith was fired in April 2009 despite a written evaluation just one week earlier stating her performance was satisfactory in every criteria.
But back to Ms. Harvey, who is the poster girl for a typical transportation department railroading.
After she attended that board meeting (without speaking), her bus videotape was pulled, which is another tactic used frequently by management. Drivers know they are always on camera, and the tape-pulling strategy, often used on a Friday before a holiday, is extremely intimidating and they feel it is a violation of their privacy, especially when there was no incident with the students to warrant any extra scrutiny.
The next thing Harvey knew, she was being summoned to a meeting with human resources. Numerous drivers and mechanics have described this dreaded HR meeting as typically set and then spontaneously rescheduled for a future date, believing the intent is twofold, both extending the intimidation process and discouraging employees from bringing an attorney or other witness to the proceedings.
In Ms. Harvey's case, her witness was an IBM retiree who rearranged her schedule and was present to witness her termination.
In a nutshell, Harvey was accused by Supervisor Vickie Swanson and HR's Mary Finlayson of "padding her timecard." Bus drivers are required at the end of the day to follow a procedure in checking their busses for left behind items or children. The supervisory duo, according to Harvey's witness, "tag teamed" her in an intense, loud and one-sided tirade going back over her record for the last ten years, and culminating in the straw that broke the camel's back - Harvey was accused of taking ten minutes one day for this checking procedure and seven minutes on another day, the three minute discrepancy thereby proving, they claimed, that Harvey had been dishonest and was "stealing" from her employer.
Starr Harvey, mom, student and well-loved driver, was terminated because that alleged three minutes was apparently too much for Ms. Swanson and Mr. Grisham to tolerate. Harvey told me the process never took more than five minutes, but they didn't allow her to state that.
When I asked Supervisor Swanson last week to share her perspective of events or at least deny the absurdities of the case, she responded with a terse, "I don't want to talk to you" and hung up.
So Ms. Harvey joins the approximately 70 other drivers who've been canned since Grisham took over the department just two years ago, though the number is in dispute.
"They had their preset agenda," Harvey's witness told me. "I was stunned at their business practices, and how they run good employees out on such trumped up charges, despite never having one complaint from a parent."
Harvey, who plans to fight to be re-instated to the job she loves, told me last week, "They're not only affecting my livelihood now, but they made it clear that if I didn't resign they would try and prevent me from finding employment with the district later."
And that's typical of the the way it was last year - in the CCSD's Transportation and Human Resources Departments.