By Rick Palsgrove
A fine levied against Groveport Madison Schools by the Ohio Department of Education for allegedly failing to provide busing for private and charter school children for a period of time was reduced, but the district is still waiting for its day in court.
Groveport Madison vs. the ODE
Originally the ODE fined Groveport Madison $700,000, but according to Groveport Madison Communications Director Jeff Warner, “The ODE agreed that the initial fine was based on a report that overinflated the amount of our reimbursement. The fine has been adjusted to $164,282.”
Per Ohio law, public schools are required to bus students who reside in the district but who attend school at private or charter schools. The law indicates districts that do not do so can be fined.
Earlier this year Groveport Madison filed a lawsuit against the ODE challenging the fine.
“The court is yet to hear arguments on the district’s filing/suit,” said Warner.
The lawsuit noted the district anticipated the ODE would deduct the fine from Groveport Madison’s scheduled payment of state transportation funds in February 2022.
“To date, ODE has deducted $73,014 from our transportation reimbursements,” said Warner.
According to Groveport Madison’s lawsuit, the deduction of ODE transportation funding would have a “disastrous and irreparable impact on Groveport Madison’s ability to provide timely, safe, and consistent transportation for its students.”
The district states it has “repeatedly and consistently strived to ensure that it meets its statutory obligation to provide transportation to all students residing in the district…” and that it believes the state’s view of what it determines to be a prolonged period of non-compliance is unclear.
The district maintains the state did not give it a chance to challenge the ODE’s actions or to have a hearing regarding the problem.
Groveport Madison’s lawsuit states this fine would make it more difficult for the district to provide student transportation and cause “irreparable harm.”
Groveport Madison contracts with Petermann Transportation to provide bus transportation for its students. The lawsuit paperwork states the district makes every effort to provide such transportation through Petermann, but a bus driver shortage, believed to have been brought on by the ongoing COVID pandemic as well as alleged labor disputes, adversely affected the district’s ability to provide busing. This resulted in reduced or cancelled bus routes.
When asked if the district was still having trouble getting all the bus routes completed, Warner said, “While many routes are still be covered by other drivers, there have been no cancelled bus routes since March 23.”
According to the district, about 5,100 of its more than 6,000 students rely on bus transportation on about 68 bus routes.
Groveport Madison and Petermann
When asked if the district plans to continue contracting with Petermann for bus services next school year, Warner said, “The district has filed a breach of contract lawsuit against Petermann Transportation. That suit has yet to be resolved. The district is evaluating proposals from various transportation providers for future consideration.”
In an official statement, district officials said, “The Groveport Madison Board of Education and Groveport Madison Schools administration believe that providing on-time student transportation and maintaining effective communications with building level leadership and parents are critically important, and non-negotiable measures of transportation performance that must always be met. Petermann’s repeated failures in these key areas have forced Groveport Madison Schools to take legal action and seriously consider transportation alternatives for the future.”
In response, Edward Flavin, vice president of external communications for Petermann, stated, “We have had the opportunity to serve Groveport Madison Schools for over a decade and value our partnership in serving that community. It is our policy not to comment further at this time, other than to say that we look forward to continuing to serve the students of the Groveport Madison community.”
District considers new bus service
After receiving proposals from four school bus transportation providers, Groveport Madison Schools Superintendent Garilee Ogden recommended the board enter into contract negotiations with Community Bus Services, Inc. for services starting with the 2022-23 school year.
Companies submitting proposals for consideration included ALC, LLP; First Student, Inc.; and the incumbent – Petermann Transportation, Inc. Each submission was evaluated and it was determined that Community Bus Services’ proposal was the preferred choice. Ogden cited the projected cost savings ($2 million plus) and the positive school district references as some of the deciding factors in the assessment process.
The board authorized legal counsel to negotiate a contract for transportation services with Community Bus Service, Inc. for the upcoming school year. The board will consider the contract at its May 11 meeting.
According to a statement from the district, the board and the district administration believe that “providing reliable, on-time student transportation service and real-time communications with the school district and building-level leadership as non-negotiable performance measures that must be met. Once full-time classes resumed this school year, repeated significant problems with student transportation (no-notice route cancellations, missed/untimely student pick-ups/drop-offs, etc.) forced Groveport Madison Schools to file a breach of contract lawsuit against the current transportation provider and seek viable transportation alternatives.”
In selecting a new student transportation provider, Ogden noted the recommendation was not, in any way, a reflection on the bus drivers themselves.
“Our drivers are among the most dedicated, diligent, and skilled I’ve worked with over my entire career,” said Ogden. “They make extraordinary sacrifices for our students every day. I’m confident that despite our decision to select a new service provider, we will continue to maintain the strong working relationship we’ve had with our drivers. The entire Cruiser Community is grateful to our drivers for their service.”