Employees blame gross mismanagement for conditions within the Broward School District’s Transportation Department
By K. Chandler
Broward County School District Superintendent, Robert W. Runcie has come under increasing fire stemming from his handling of internal problems within the District’s Transportation Department which includes two recruits from Chicago. Former Chief In-formation Officer Maurice Woods is now Broward Schools Chief Strategy and Operations Officer and the District’s Transportation Chief is Chester Tindal.
By most accounts, the problems go far deeper than the debacle that occurred on the first day of school when Broward County school bus drivers learned about their routes for the first time, resulting in mass confusion among parents, students and drivers alike.
As morale within the Transportation Department continues to plummet, allegations of widespread cronyism, bullying, and even illegal employment practices continue to swirl around the District’s Transportation Chief, Chester Tindall, with calls for his ouster escalating.
Tindall, a consultant recruited from Chicago by Superintendent Runcie, and reportedly paid $125,000 a year, has been described as arrogant, divisive, and callous toward his workers. He is also said to be patently violating worker’s rights after employees complained bitterly of being fired without cause, and laid off while workers with less seniority assumed their positions, leading to investigations by the EEOC and the Federation of Public Employees, the union representing the bus drivers. Exacerbating matters, Tindall has repeatedly ignored summons to appear at union grievance talks.
Other employees have filed lawsuits claiming racial discrimination and violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Allegations have even surfaced claiming that employees have been pressured into withdrawing from the union in order to keep their jobs, a charge that is currently under investigation by the union.
Kimberly Ward, a former Clerk Specialist II, laid off without notice on May 30 along with nearly two dozen other transportation workers, confronted Tindall in the hallway and wound up being cited for insubordination, and told she was being terminated. Later, a video tape of the incident was played before the Broward County School Board, and Tindall’s accusations regarding insubordination were found to be baseless.
Ward, who said that she had never been written up in 10 years, has since filed a suit with the EEOC alleging discrimination and retaliation. She also had harsh words for the Transportation Chief asserting that a Clerk Typist, who was a sub-ordinate under her, was wrongfully assigned to her position.
“She [Doreen Watson] can’t do my job. On top of that, they put a white person in my job who had allegedly cheated on a typing test before she was hired. She isn’t qualified. I’ve even gotten calls from Tallahassee requesting reports they’ve not received. No one at the District knows how to do them, and they haven’t been done.”
In addition to getting rid of so many qualified employees who knew the system inside and out, Ward said that bus drivers from the north end of Pompano were now winding up with routes that required them to drive all the way down to Hollywood to pick up kids, raising issues of safety and efficiency.
Another long-standing Transportation worker who was let go was a disabled employee by the name of Yvonne Mc-Fadden. She said she became the victim of a vendetta waged by two coworkers because of her ties to Lucille Greene, the former Director of Pupil Transportation, who had numerous family members employed at the District, and retired under pressure in July 2006.
“We got a Director from Chicago who didn’t know anybody and sided with people who had a vendetta against Lucy Greene,” stated McFadden.
Thelma Owens, who was McFadden’s immediate supervisor for a number of years, concurred, saying, “People rode her because of her friendship with Greene,” adding that she personally never had any problems with McFadden.
According to Owens, it started with McFadden getting writ-ten up multiple times for petty matters that had never been an issue before. Both women point the finger squarely at Mary Tochman, Chester Tindall’s secretary, and Kay Blake, who is the leading Transportation trainer despite the fact that she allegedly didn’t receive her CDL license until this year – if she’s even got them now after five years on the job.
“Mary Tochman wanted me out of the building,” recalled McFadden, who was eventually reassigned to another building despite her protestations that it didn’t have an elevator, making it extremely difficult for her to climb up and down stairs due to her disability.
According to McFadden, after she filed a union grievance alleging harassment, Tindall’s reaction was swift and harsh.
“Chester informed Mrs. Owens that she’d be fired and so would I if she didn’t ‘handle’ the situation,” stated McFadden, adding that all of her duties were subsequently stripped from her and reassigned to a clerk with the intention of “pushing me out.”
When she later took a medical leave, Chester Tindall took that opportunity to let her go, she said, by not reinstating her when she tried to return to duty. McFadden is currently seeking legal redress.
“A lot of people want to talk,” said Owens, “But they’re afraid of retaliation,” a sentiment that was shared by a number of other people interviewed for this story.
According to one employee who has been with the Transportation Department for 34 years but requested anonymity, many workers are frustrated that so many employees were fired and laid off while at the same time a team of consultants from Chicago was being paid salaries in excess of $100,000.
“I understand that the economy is bad, but laying off people with years of experience on the job while putting friends in top position that pay high salaries — that doesn’t sit right with a lot of people,” she noted.
Then there is the case of Eric Ingram, 58, who’d been with the District for 24 years as a stock clerk in the vehicle maintenance stockroom before taking an early retirement in the face of a lay-off that would have stripped him of his sick leave (as it was he lost 1,000 hours of back vacation pay).
“Last year they brought a new group into the Maintenance Department. Everything was turned upside down. It’s supposed to be all about the children. But if it’s all about the children, who’s thought about our children? We’ve got children and grandchildren we have to take care of too.”
“Right now everything is so chaotic in a District which used to work in lock-step with every other unit including vehicle maintenance, staffing operations, training & routing units, terminal managers and administration. Now, everything is so disconnected, this was bound to happen.”
Ingram also feels that instead of laying people off, the School District should have given employees the option to take a cut in pay. “People are really hurting today. We agreed to take four furlough days so others wouldn’t lose their job, only to be laid off later on. People feel like this is a stab in the back, particularly after being reassured there would be no layoffs.”He also noted that many drivers and attendants were questioning whether there was an effort underfoot to privatize the Transportation Department. “If they present a bad enough impression of the District, many believe the State will then lean heavily toward privatization,” he stated.
Theresa Moore, a former supervisor who was also laid off on May 30th after 22 years with the District said that in her estimation, the “most serious problem facing the Transportation Department. was a leadership crisis.”
“When the new leadership came in, everybody embraced change. Then, the new management decided to take the jobs and duties away from workers and redistribute them throughout the Department to people not qualified. This is where the District failed. They’re not operating contractually. And as far as promotions and in-house placements go, you come to work and find people in positions without any external or internal job notices having been posted. My solution would be to remove that Chicago outfit and give us somebody who cares for and understands Broward County.”
The “Chicago outfit” mentioned has cost the District $295,000.