At least 40 of the approximately 200 bus drivers hired by a national transportation company to take D.C. special education children to school every day have been charged with serious criminal offenses, according to documents subpoenaed by D.C. Council member Kevin P. Chavous. They were put on the job, however, before the firm or D.C. school officials knew the dispensation of their cases.
In at least four cases, the drivers were convicted of crimes, according to the documents, which were subpoenaed from the transportation firm. One driver was convicted of possession of crack, marijuana and a bomb.
Another driver, Charles Green, worked for the firm at least two months despite having been involved in two 1998 bus accidents in which more than 13 children were injured. He had four convictions in 1993 and 1994 for traffic offenses in Maryland and Virginia, according to school system records.
Chavous (D-Ward 7) said that his office found the problem drivers after going through only about 70 of the firm's documents and that there could be many more with criminal records. Crimes that some of the drivers have been charged with include battery, child abuse, child cruelty, simple assault and theft.
The charges and convictions against drivers were disclosed yesterday at a hearing Chavous held on the school system's transportation services, which since June have been provided by Laidlaw Transit Inc. under a $20 million contract. The firm takes nearly 3,000 special education students to and from school every day.
Similar disclosures were made nearly a year ago about dozens of bus drivers employed by a different firm that then held the school system's transportation contract.
"Sadly, we are back to the future," Chavous said yesterday. "Only this time, it seems to be worse. We have a nationally recognized company that made assurances to us that by all accounts seem to be false. It clearly rises to the level where criminal inquiry needs to be pursued."
Michael Rushin, Laidlaw's senior vice president, said his firm hired some drivers and assigned them routes before all the information from FBI background checks had come back. But he said all local criminal checks had been completed.
D.C. school system officials testified that they were unaware of the backgrounds of the drivers, although it is not clear whether they asked Laidlaw to provide such information. Chavous said the school system had failed to properly monitor the bus contractor.
The school system contracts out the majority of its transportation services. In the past two years, it has had three bus contractors--and continuing problems. Children with physical, mental or emotional disabilities sometimes wait in vain for buses that don't come; others spend several hours on buses and vans with drivers who don't know the routes.
D.C. officials had hoped that hiring the nationally known Laidlaw firm would finally bring an end to the transportation difficulties. But yesterday's hearing spotlighted new concerns.
A former Laidlaw employee, Kyvette Sullivan, testified that she warned several of her superiors about Green and some other drivers but was told not to tell school officials. Sullivan, a compliance officer, said she later was forced to resign.
Rushin said that this was the first time he had heard Sullivan's charges and that he would investigate. Chavous, chairman of the council's education committee, said he will ask the U.S. attorney's office to investigate the charges.
D.C. school officials said they are working on a contingency plan to take over all transportation services if necessary. Superintendent Arlene Ackerman does not have contracting power, but sources in her administration said she may ask city officials to break the contract with Laidlaw.
More than 40 contract drivers with criminal records lost their jobs last school year, and three school system clerks were fired for hiding or destroying records. That contractor, Horton & Barber Professional Services Inc., was replaced by Laidlaw.