Embattled BCPS Transportation director blows the whistle on rampant corruption, nepotism
By K. Chandler
Chester Tindall, 50, may hail from the “Windy City” of Chicago, but his brief tenure here has been nothing short of stormy. “I was brought down here to reform the system,” stated the embattled but unbowed head of the Broward County Public School’s Transportation Department.
“My job was to follow-up on the findings of the federal grand jury probe into nepotism, favoritism, corruption and harassment within the BCPS Transportation Dept., and make sure they were corrected.” What the retired Army transportation officer found, however, was far worse than he was led to believe.
“Whole families were working for the BCPS Transportation Dept. Mothers were working with daughters. Sisters were working for sisters.
And the other side of that coin was that people were being denied jobs and promotions because they were not related to other people. There was no professionalism or accountability in the Dept. from the top down,” said Tindall, former transportation director for the Chicago Public School system from 1997-2010.
“Absenteeism was also rampant, exceeding 30 percent a day. Some workers would take off at noon and not return for the rest of the day. And to top it off, they didn’t expect to be reprimanded.
“My perspective was that if this was just 2-3 people that would be one thing. But 200-300 employees had chronic absenteeism problems. Some employees regularly filed Workman’s Compensation claims every year, getting paid to take time off from work year after year.”
Upon arriving here, Tindall said that he asked terminal managers for their absenteeism and overtime rates. “No one could tell me, making it really difficult to justify spending tens of millions with little or no oversight or accountability.”
People paid to come to work
“If you can believe this, at one terminal the BCPS District was literally paying people extra to show up for work. The South Terminal had worked out an agreement whereby employees could park at Walmart, approximately 1/2 – 1 mile away. A shuttle bus transported about 100 people daily to the South Terminal. The cost to the District was $1 million annually.
“I couldn’t get an intelligent answer anywhere as to why this was occurring, or when this was approved by the School Board. The bottom line was that this had never been approved by the Board. The ‘ok’ came from the previous acting director, Carolyn Fuller, and was basically a way to guarantee less absenteeism at the South Terminal,” stated Tindall, who shut down the program drawing the anger of employees but saving the District $1 million in the process.
“I met with all the employees. I told them, ‘If you don’t come to work, I’m going to fire you.’ I said this in the presence of Broward County School Board President Linda Murphy and School Superintendent Bob Runcie. I never took any actions without their full knowledge and backing. In return, they gave me full reign to enact sweeping changes designed to enhance efficiency and reduce the bottom line.”
Facing stiff opposition
Tindall’s actions stirred up even more opposition from administrators and employees when a number of employees tested positive for drugs a few weeks later.
“I was all but asked by senior staffers to look the other way. I wouldn’t do it. The reason I felt so strongly was because they didn’t deny using drugs or driving under the influence. So when I said, ‘I don’t care. I’m not going to have bus drivers who’ve tested positive for drugs, driving children to and from school,’ senior staffers got very upset.
“They pointed out that in the labor contract there’s a part about last chance agreements that should be honored. My response was: ‘No can do.’ When it involves children, there’s no such thing as second chances. Knowingly putting children at risk is unacceptable. Consequently, I removed these employees, which caused an up-roar that went all the way up to the Board, but my position was firm.”