The city’s school district has reversed course on severing ties with a transportation company that was involved in two separate incidents that allegedly jeopardized the safety of students. U.S. Student Services of Woodland Park is being allowed to keep 34 of the 37 routes it had at the start of the 2017-18 school year.
Acting superintendent Eileen Shafer announced the decision on Monday. Her decision came after the district held a special hearing on Thursday morning with the bus company. That hearing, prompted by a lawsuit by the transportation firm, led to an agreement between the district and the bus company.
Under the agreement, the bus company will no longer have the Dale Avenue route which is worth $38,911. Both incidents – one where a child was left on the bus and another where the company failed to report an accident to the district — occurred in this route.
The firm will pay an elevated $38,911 penalty for both incidents. It will give up two additional routes worth $85,011, but keep almost $1.3 million worth of other routes. It will also be barred from receiving any future routes in the 2017-18 school year and be placed under a “last chance agreement.”
Both fines and loss of routes amount to a $162,833 penalty for the bus company.
The two incidents that led to Shafer’s announcement on Sept. 15, 2017 that the district will cut ties with U.S. Student Services occurred at a time when contracted bus companies were misbehaving.
For example, two other firms — A-1 Elegant Tours and Jersey Kids – were involved in their own blunders. The former left a sleeping boy on the bus while the latter dropped off children at a school on two different days without handing them to school staff.
The superintendent summoned representatives of all the bus companies and warned them another blunder would cost them. Subsequently, a driver for U.S. Student Services sideswiped a vehicle, according to the district, but did not report the accident to the district as required.
Shafer was forced to act. She called the two incidents involving U.S. Student Services “egregious” for putting “children at risk” and vowed not to tolerate it. She re-assured parents in Monday’s announcement.
“I want to assure our parents and guardians that I take safety matters very seriously and I stand firm on my stance that our bus companies must follow all proper procedures,” said Shafer. “We cannot jeopardize the safety of our children; and while I must abide with this decision, I plan to closely monitor all of our transportation activities.”
The school board was expected to award the U.S. Student Services routes to other companies on Wednesday night.
One firm, A-1 Elegant Tours, submitted lowest bids for 31 routes. This firm, owned by councilman Shahin Khalique’s brother Shelim Khalique, received a great deal of attention for having 48 violations – more than any other company contracted by the district — in the 2016-17 school year.
Even before the violations came to surface, the firm was involved in controversy. Khalique, the councilman, supported three sitting school board members – Flavio Rivera, Manny Martinez, and Christopher Irving – in last year’s school board election. Although the Khalique family business secured millions in busing contracts by being the lowest responsible bidder on routes, some alleged a nefarious connection.
“They gave them up. Why’d they give them up? Because of all the negative press,” said Irving, the school board president. When asked if he is comfortable with the routes being returned to U.S. Student Services, Irving said, “Absolutely not.”