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Allegations work is being done to private vehicles on company time at the Guilderland School District bus garage

September 13, 2019 02:34 PM

For more than 16 years at the Guilderland Central School District, mechanics inside the district's bus garage have been allowed to work on private vehicles on their own time, using their own tools and only if it is "off the clock." 

Whistleblowers reached out to NewsChannel 13 back in July, to inform that this kind of work is happening during school hours by upper management inside the Transportation Center. Those whistleblowers want to sound the alarm for taxpayers because they believe the district should investigate.

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After dozens of 13 Investigates inquiries, the Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Marie Wiles informed the school community on August 16, 2019 she would bring the issue to the school board's attention at the next school board meeting on Tuesday night, September 17, 2019.

The Vice President of the Guilderland Central School District School Board is Timothy Horan. Tim Horan agreed to speak with NewsChannel 13 on the record, but speaking for himself only. 

Horan tells 13 Investigates, the district's transportation is a big "money part" of the budget.

Horan adding, "And any concerns should draw our attention as a school board. We want to make sure we are doing right by the public."

Horan confirms to NewsChannel 13 he's seen the pictures and has "big concerns" with them.

However, Superintendent Dr. Marie Wiles is adamant that no district employees have come forward and says the district would investigate complaints with credible evidence.

Albany County Legislator Mark Grimm reached out to 13 Investigates about the issue in July. The whistleblowers are his constituents, and he says he is deeply concerned. "Government assets should be used for government, not personal use," Grimm told 13 Investigates.

Grim says it is only appropriate the school district get involved, "We need a thorough investigation."

The Guilderland Central School District bus garage is quite busy. The district transports more than 5,000 students to at least 60 locations every school-day. 

Employees inside the district's Transportation Center (bus garage) keep dozens of buses up to speed.

Their latest state New York State inspection? A 100-percent passing rate.

Last month, Superintendent Dr. Marie Wiles agreed to sit down for an on camera interview with NewsChannel 13. "I have no credible proof at this time, that anyone is doing work on personal vehicles when they should otherwise be working on the school district."

13 Investigates shared pictures of a privately owned red Chevy Silverado on a lift at the district bus garage that is owned by someone in upper management. The photo appears to show another employee working on that vehicle in question. The whistleblower who snapped the pictures is a current school district employee and says they saw work being done on the Chevy on school time June 6, 2019. 13 Investigates also shared photos of a privately owned snowmobile, by another manager of the bus garage. The whistleblower who chose not to speak on camera with NewsChannel 13 for fear of retaliation, does confirm the snowmobile was parked inside the garage for more than a month and employees were complaining about the work being done to it. NewsChannel 13 checked, and did not see that snowmobile listed on the district's "Fleet of Vehicles" 13 Investigates.

"I saw the snowmobile was in the garage, before I retired," Mike Majkut told NewsChannel 13.

Majkut recently retired from driving school bus for the district, "I don't understand how that's allowed on school-time. Nobody else can do it."

Reporter Jill Konopka asked Mike Majkut: "Is it allowed: to work on your personal vehicle? Majkut responded, "Not that I'm aware of no. I had a small thing, wanted to know if they could do it, and they said no." 

Reporter Jill Konopka asked Superintendent Dr. Marie Wiles, "Is the transportation center allowed to be used as a storage facility?  Dr. Wiles responded, "No, but I don't know what the purpose of that is, and employees have been allowed the opportunity to work on their personal vehicles which include a snowmobile."

Guilderland Superintendent Marie Wiles shared a 2003 memo.

Back then administrators labeled "district policy" for mechanics quote "limited to non-regular working hours as well as work on your own personal vehicle…"  Superintendent Dr. Marie Wiles responded, "The writing of that memo, used the word policy in a generic way. However, we don't have an official board approved policy."  Reporter Jill Konopka asked Superintendent Dr. Marie Wiles: "Do you think there needs to be a policy? Dr. Wiles responded: "I don't know it's a board decision."

Retirees confirm it wasn't unusual to see other personal vehicles prepped for work on company time.  Retiree Mike Majkut added, "With all four wheels off, and I was walking to my bus. She was at her car at the time, telling me she was getting all new tires." 

Maggie LeClair is a recently retired school bus driver for Guilderland Central School District also, "People who are at work, shouldn't be working on their own vehicles or having somebody else working on their vehicles."

Reporter Jill Konopka asked Dr. Wiles, "Does anyone abuse that situation, that long-standing practice?  Dr. Wiles responded, "Not that I know of, I haven't seen yet, credible evidence that would leave me to believe individuals are working on personal vehicles when they should be working on school vehicles."

School Board Vice President Tim Horan confirmed to NewsChannel 13 he's seen the photos. Speaking for himself only, Horan stated quote, "I have met with some of the employees who are raising concerns about some of the things they are seeing. As a board, we briefly discussed the issue in July, in executive session. The school district is looking into the allegations. One of the difficulties in my opinion, is that the employees are very nervous about stepping up and speaking out." 

Dr. Wiles had this to say to whistleblowers afraid to come forward, "Take a deep breath, and come over here to the district office and share their concerns and that is how we can do a real investigation."

We combed through nearly seven hours of bus garage video. Clips expire every 21 to 30 days.

Learning two weeks and a couple days after that July 2 executive session, district documents reveal three security cameras reported "out of service."

Including one for the front exterior of the garage.  Reporter Jill Konopka asked the superintendent, "Are there any cameras that aren't working right now? Dr. Wiles responded, "I have no idea."

According to their insurance policy, personal vehicles aren't covered.  Konopka asked, "Do they fill out a log (when they do the work on their own private vehicles off the clock?)  Dr. Wiles stated, "No, no. I really don't know to the extent in which it happens.  NewsChannel 13 asked Dr. Marie Wiles if it was worth having this long-standing practice, Wiles stated, "It long predates me. I joined this organization in 2010 and it's not typical, but it long predates me, and until your inquiry, I would say it was not an issue."

However, for Albany County Legislator Mark Grimm, "This is something that's wrong and it needs to be corrected," Grimm stated.

NewsChannel 13 spoke to two mechanics at the district on condition of anonymity.  "Our boss is real strict about that. You're not allowed to do the work on company time."  That mechanic stated if work is being done on a private vehicle, it is off company time. I think it's awful, it is a shame, it's putting a black eye on the hard-working mechanics doing a great job. It's shameful. I don't like it at all."


NewsChannel 13 reached out to more than 100 school districts across our viewing area to ask what if any policy there is regarding work being done to private vehicles on and/or off company time at district bus garages. Nearly 60 school districts responded to our inquiry. Guilderland and Cambridge are the only two that allow it "off" company time.

53-percent or 29 districts do not allow any work to be done to private vehicles.

36-percent or 20 districts said this doesn't apply to them. One is a walking district. The others contract out for bus service. 7-percent or four districts did not have an answer. They said this issue has never come up

REACHED OUT – CAPITAL DISTRICT – STILL WAITING FOR RESPONSES

Saratoga Schools

Schodack Schools

Shenendehowa Schools

Taconic Hills Schools

Troy Schools

Johnstown Schools

Mayfield Schools

Bethlehem Schools

Oppenheim Ephratah-St. Johnsville

Wheelerville UFSD

Berkshire Union Free Schools

Berlin Central Schools

Mayfield Schools

Hoosick Falls Schools

Amsterdam Schools

Canajoharie Schools

Fort Plain Schools

Berne Knox Westerlo

Burnt Hills Ballston Lake Schools

Cobleskill-Richmondville CSD

Schenectady Schools

Sharon Springs Schools

South Colonie Schools

Bolton Schools

Fort Ann Schools

Hudson Falls Schools

Johnsburg Schools

Hartford Schools

Hudson Falls Schools

Johnsburg Schools

North Warren Schools

Salem Schools

Schuylerville Schools

Warrensburg Schools

1. Guilderland: Superintendent Dr. Marie Wiles: Longstanding practice is that it is allowed off company time, among mechanics using their own tools.

2. Corinth: Superintendent Dr. Mark Stratton: "We don't have a written policy but do not work on private vehicles unless it is an emergency type situation, like blowing up a flat tire or helping open a locked door."

3. Averill Park Schools: Superintendent Dr. Jim Franchini "It's not allowed at all, on or off company time," Superintendent questions the liability too.

4. North Colonie PIO: "Use of District Supplies and Equipment" policy (#8330), it states: "Private and/or personal use of district supplies and equipment is strictly prohibited, except as Board approved in policy or by contract."

5. Middleburgh: From the website/PIO Ben Amey: "Theft of Services or property from the District by an employee will result in immediate disciplinary action that can lead to dismissal or other penalty, and shall not preclude the filing of criminal or civil charges by the district.  

6. Broadalbin-Perth From the website/PIO Ben Amey: "Theft of Services or property from the District by an employee will result in immediate disciplinary action that can lead to dismissal or other penalty, and shall not preclude the filing of criminal or civil charges by the district."   https://www.bpcsd.org/about-b-p/board-of-education/board-of-education-policies/policy-6450/

7. Pittsfield: Superintendent Jake McCandless: "We do not allow any non district vehicle work to be done with district transportation resources human, space, tools etc. "

8.  Cohoes PIO: "Cohoes is a walking district, so no buses or bus policies for us." PIO

9. Greenwich: Mark Fish Superintendent of Schools:  "We do not have a board policy but our practice in the district is to only do maintenance on school vehicles in the bus garage."

10.  Hunter-Tannersville Superintendent Susan Vickers: "HTC is just like Averill Park, absolutely no work on personal vehicles. To do so would be flagrant misuse of public funds ex. for the electricity, water, or machines being used.  If an issue/accident occurred on the school property the school then is liable."

11.  Fort Edward Superintendent Dan Ward: "The Fort Edward UFSD does have a small garage that we use to store our 6 buses but we do not have a mechanic nor do we conduct any mechanical work on site.  We contract with an outside garage for all our mechanic and inspection work.  I hope that this answers your request."

12. Cairo-Durham Superintendent Mike Wetherbee:  "Cairo-Durham does not own a bus garage or do our own maintenance.  We contract out our maintenance so we do not face the issue you are inquiring about.  Thank you for including us in your request."

13. Duanesburg Schools Superintendent Frank Macri: "We do not allow any personal use of our transportation facility.  This includes our mechanical equipment and wash equipment."

14. Northville Schools Superintendent Dr. Leslie Ford: "Northville does not allow for the maintenance of any privately-owned vehicles."

15. Lake George Superintendent Lynne C. Rutnik: "This is not a required school policy. Therefore LGCSD does not have a policy in relation to this item."

16. Glens Falls Superintendent Paul Jenkins: "Currently, we do not have a policy that addresses that specific issue.  We have a policy that regulates the loan of school materials and equipment that is allowed for staff members when the use is directly related to their employment and/or for educational purposes, but nothing as specific as work being done on personal vehicles."

17. East Greenbush PIO Mark Adam: "We do not allow any work to be done on personal vehicles."

18.  Chatham Schools Superintendent Sal DeAngelo: "Yes, we do have a policy. Please see the top of page 6 of the attached document. No, we do not allow personal use of school-owned materials and equipment and this would include the bus garage."  Policy reads: "School-owned materials or equipment will be used for school related purposes only except as provided below.  Private or personal use of school-owned materials and equipment is strictly prohibited."

19.  Germantown Schools: Superintendent Susan Brown: "We do not have busses therefore we do not have a bus garage.

20.  Coxsackie-Athens Superintendent: "We contract with First Student for transportation, thus we have no bus garage."

21. Catskill Superintendent Dr. Cook: "We do not have a bus garage and / or automotive program for students as we contract out our transportation services to outside vendors.  If we had a bus garage, it would be inappropriate for personal vehicles to be worked on at any time during the school day or after hours."

22. Greenville Superintendent Tammy J. Sutherland: "Only school owned vehicles are worked on inside of our bus maintenance facility.

23.  Niskayuna Schools from PIO: "In Niskayuna, mechanic services are provided by Capital Region BOCES through a regional shared services agreement."

24.  New Lebanon Schools: Superintendent: Leslie Whitcomb, "I believe the District Policy that you are requesting is our Policy # 8330.  The text of that policy is copied, below:  USE OF SCHOOL-OWNED MATERIALS AND EQUIPMENT

Except when used in connection with or when rented under provisions of Education Law Section 414, school-owned materials or equipment may be used by members of the community or by District employees and/or students for school related purposes only. Private and/or personal use of school owned materials and equipment is strictly prohibited.

The Board will permit school materials and equipment to be loaned to staff members when such use is directly or peripherally related to their employment and loaned to students when the material and equipment is to be used in connection with their studies or extracurricular activities.

Community members will be allowed to use school-owned materials and equipment only for educational purposes that relate to school operations. Individuals borrowing district-owned equipment shall be fully liable for any damage or loss occurring to the equipment during the period of its use, and shall be responsible for its safe return.

In addition, since Board members, officers and employees are issued district owned equipment in connection with their work responsibilities, the individual using the district owned equipment should not have an expectation of privacy with respect to information contained on the devices (e.g. computer files, images, messages).

Administrative regulations will be developed to assure the lender's responsibility for, and return of, all such materials and equipment.

Education Law Section 414

25. Hudson City Schools: Superintendent Dr. Maria Lagana Suttmeier, Ed.D "We do not have a bus garage so this is a non- issue for Hudson with no associated policy. We contract out for our bus services." 

26. Albany Schools PIO: "We do not own our own buses, and don't have a bus garage. "

27.  Fonda-Fultonville Superintendent Thomas Ciaccio: "We do not have a bus garage. We contract out for transportation."

28. Gloversville Superintendent David Halloran: "Gloversville schools does not allow work on private vehicles in our bus/ maintenance garage." 

29. Ravena-Coeyman-Selkirk Superintendent Dr. Brian Bailey: "I have looked through the policy manual and it does not speak to employee usage of school facilities (including the bus garage).  Anecdotally, I have been here nine years and have not seen an employee using the facilities to repair a personal vehicle.  

30. Green Island Superintendent Kimberly Ross: "Green Island does not have a bus garage.  We subcontract for all our bussing needs."

31. Brunswick/Brittonkill Superintendent Dr. Angelina Maloney: "We do not have a policy on the above howver we do not allow our mechanics to work on personal vehicles in our facilities."

32. Mohonasen Schools Superintendent Shannon Shine: "We do not appear to have a policy regarding this.  It would be inappropriate for our staff to work on personal vehicles during work time.  We do offer, for all staff, battery jumping services and tire air fills when folks are in distress while at work.  I am told that in past years there have been instances where personal vehicles were worked on after hours, but that is by no means standard operating procedure at Mohonasen."

33.  Schoharie Superintendent David Blanchard:  "Schoharie does not allow non district work in any of it's facilities.  This includes the bus garage."

34.  Menands Union Free School District Superintendent Dr. Maureen A. Long: "We do not have a bus garage - as we contract all of our transportation."

35. Mechanicville Schools: Superintendent Bruce Potter:  "We do not allow mechanics to work on personal or non-district vehicles in our garage at any time."

36. Lansingburgh Superintendent: Truthfully, I don't know the answer to this. I'm going to connect you with the district's Transportation Director, who may be able to give you the information you need. Still waiting.

37. Scotia-Glenville Superintendent Susan Swartz:  "We are in shared transportation consortium with Niskayuna through CR BOCES.  They employ the Director of Transportation as well as mechanics for both district (and some other trans personnel…though not either districts' drivers.  From Mark Jones: "There is no practice of repairing personal vehicles at the Hillside bus garage for either district." They are partnered with Scotia/Nisky

38. Rensselaer Superintendent Joseph Kardash: "We do not have our own garage with a lift. We share transportation services with Schodack.  We also have no policy on the matter that I can find. My general answer to the situation is that work cannot be done on personal vehicles on or off the clock, however-if an employee, community member, or student should need air in their tire for safety reasons or should need a jump for a dead battery, the school should do the right thing and help them out."

39. Granville Central School District: Superintendent Thomas D. McGurl "We do not allow the repair of not district vehicles or equipment in our transportation or maintenance facility."

40. Ballston Spa: Stuart Williams/Community Relations "We do not have a specific policy on this exact issue, but we have a broader ethics policy that would prohibit work being done. 

41. South Glens Falls: Superintendent Kristine Orr "We have a strict procedure on this but we do not have it in our BOE policy. There is no work done on personal vehicles in the bus garage and no one is allowed to use district owned equipment for personal reasons as well."

42. Stillwater Schools Patricia Morris: "As per our conversation, Stillwater does not allow for private or personal use of school-owned materials and equipment, including facilities use; our policy strictly prohibits personal use of the bus garage and/or materials and equipment.

43.  Hartford: Superintendent Andrew Cook: "The Hartford Central School District does not have a formal Board of Education policy on this topic.  However, the district's practice prohibits work being done on personal vehicles in the district's bus garage."

44. Cobleskill-Richmondville: Carl J. Mummenthey Superintendent of Schools: "While we don't have a specific board policy on this topic, I have confirmed with our transportation supervisor that we do not permit staff to complete work on personal vehicles at our garage."

45. Argyle Schools: Superintendent Michael Healey: "Argyle CSD does not have a formal written policy pertaining to this, but our District's practice is not to allow work on personal vehicles in the district's bus garage." 

46. Cambridge: Superintendent: Douglas Silvernail: "Our mechanics, because they have their own tools here on site, are allowed to work on their own personal vehicles after hours, but not anyone else's. This is not necessarily a board policy, but it is clear to the mechanics."

47. North Greenbush Schools: Wendy Driscoll/District Treasurer: "North Greenbush Common School District; "We contract with Wynantskill Union Free School District for our transportation and we do not have a bus garage."

48. Queensbury Schools Superintendent:  Cheri Martindale: "Queensbury School District doesn't allow any personal vehicles to be worked on in the garage."

49. Schalmont Central School District: Dr. Carol Pallas  "Attached is our policy-we do not allow it." And policy says: "Private and/or personal use of school-owned materials and equipment is strictly prohibited."

50. Waterford-Halfmoon Union Free School District: Superintendent Patrick Pomerville"We contract all our big bus services including bus maintenance with an outside bus transportation company and our mini-bus fleet is serviced by this company too, so there isn't really any equipment in our small garage to work on anything anyway."

51.  PeruSchools Superintendent Tom Palmer: "The district does not have a formal policy on the use of the bus garage.  The district policy we have is Employee Use of District Equipment  #2575  

EMPLOYEE USE OF DISTRICT EQUIPMENT The Peru Central School District Board of Education is committed to avoiding unauthorized use of school district equipment. To this end, employees are prohibited from borrowing and taking off campus school district equipment for off-duty or personal use. This policy does not interfere with reasonable and prudent supervisorapproved off-campus use of school district equipment: § Associated with local, regional, county, state or federal emergencies, as prescribed in the school district's safety plan. § Specified via contract or via protocols established via the school district's information technology coordinator to promote increased employee productivity with duly-assigned school district information technology equipment. 

If there was a situation that arose of someone using the garage, the district would deal with it accordingly, but at this time, it has not been an issue.

52. Brunswick: Superintendent Dr. Angelina Maloney: "We do not have a policy on the above, however we do not allow our mechanics to work on personal vehicles in our facilities."

53. Ichabod Crane:  Interim Superintendent: Lee Bordick: "It is prohibited in our district, and according to our Transportation Director that has been policy for as long as he knows."  

54. Shenendehowa Schools: PIO: "We do not allow any work on privately owned cars to take plane in our facility for any reason."

55. Galway Schools: Superintendent Brita Donovan: "Galway Central School District does not have a formal policy that addresses this specific issue, however, district employees do not work on personal vehicles in the district's bus garage."

BERKSHIRE COUNTY, MASSACHUSETTS

Pittsfield Schools Superintendent Jake McCandless: "We do not allow any non district vehicle work to be done with district transportation resources human, space, tools etc."

North Adams: Dr. Barbara Malkas Superintendent: "North Adams Public Schools subcontracts bus services through Dufour and does not have a service garage under our policy."

Adams-Cheshire Regional School District: Still waiting.

Berkshire Central School District: Still waiting.

Southern Berkshire Regional School District Superintendent Beth L. Regulbuto M.Ed. SFO: "Our District does not own our buses – we contract out with Massini Bus Company; therefore, I cannot speak to what their practice would be on this issue."

Reached out to Lenox School District: Still waiting.

Berkshire Hills School District Superintendent Dr. Peter Dillon: "We contract with a bus company and don't have a bus garage." 

Lee School District Superintendent HJ Eberwein: "We subcontract with Dufour Bus Company. You could certainly reach out to them. We don't set policies for their garages."

Mount Greylock Regional School District Superintendent: "We do not have a bus garage. We contract with a bus company."

BENNINGTON COUNTY, VERMONT

SVSU – Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union: Still waiting.

Battenkill Valley Supervisory Union Superintendent: William Bazyk "We don't have a policy on this so this would be at the discretion of the Superintendent. I have never had this request before, but I would probably grant the employee the right to work on her or his vehicle as long as it is in reason. IE, general maintenance, not restoring a classic car."

Bennington-Rutland Supervisory Union School District: Still waiting.

Windham Southwest Supervisory Union: Still waiting.

Windham Central: Still waiting.

Credits

WNYT Staff

Copyright 2019 WNYT-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved

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