The Groveport Madison Local School District has taken the first step toward filing a lawsuit against the district’s bus transportation company.
During the Nov. 17 meeting of the board of education, the board voted 3-2 to authorize the filing of a declaratory judgment action to determine the board and district’s rights and responsibilities under the current transportation contract with Petermann LLC. The board authorized the expenditure of $10,000 to the law firm of Fusco, Mackey, Mathews and Gill LLP for a retainer for such legal action.
This follows on the heels of the district’s attempt this summer to lease and purchase a fleet of school buses, which could be used instead of buses owned by Petermann. The company is under contract with the district to operate buses until 2011. Purchasing the buses was projected to save the district $96,000 a year.
School officials have been mum about the ongoing undisclosed legal dispute between the district and Petermann, and the board of education has held numerous closed executive sessions, presumably about the matter, over the last several months.
Board members Dr. Naomi Sealey and Mary Tedrow voted against pursuing the lawsuit.
"I’m voting no because I don’t want to spend any more money on this," Tedrow announced prior to the vote.
Sealey said it is time the district stops wasting taxpayers’ money and the valuable time of school officials on this issue.
"This board has been discussing nothing but transportation since the beginning of June and to date we have spent over $35,000 on attorney fees," Sealey said. "Now you are requesting that we spend $10,000 on a retainer to file a lawsuit against Petermann, and then thousands more to defend this action. This is completely asinine."
Sealey said she believes the district can work things out with Petermann because they are doing their job, and alleged that certain board members have a vendetta against Petermann and are using taxpayers’ money to pursue their agendas.
"This is wrong and I will continue to speak out against this lawsuit," she said. "Even if we win this lawsuit, what do we gain? We will spend up to $100,000 or more to win the ability to buy buses which will, in turn, cost us more taxpayers’ money. Think what we could do with $100,000 to help educate our children. We could buy more textbooks, add more computers to classrooms, fix roofs, or hire more primary teaching staff."
Board member Nathan Slonaker countered, "I have no personal vendetta against Petermann…I think this is the most financially responsible decision we can make."
"I’m entirely puzzled," said Pete Settle, president of Petermann LLC, in a Nov. 19 interview, about the school board’s actions. "They (the board) unanimously approved the contract last year and now a year later they take this action. We don’t know what they are going to ask the judge."
Settle said Petermann has tried to work with the board to find out what they do not understand about the contract, or what changes they wanted, with no success.
"We also offered to enter into mediation with them with an independent mediator," said Settle.
He added his company has worked with the district to reduce transportation costs for the district by $1 million over the past year and a half.
Settle said Petermann operates 43, four-year-old buses for the district. He said the district’s owned fleet of about 40 buses have an average age of 10 years and an average of 126,000 miles on them. He said he did not know why the district was seeking to buy more old buses to add to an already aging district owned fleet.
Other Groveport Madison news
•Susan Briggs, director of school improvement, gave a presentation regarding the third grade reading test results, which show how many of the students have already mastered third grade reading skills. The district’s average was 60 percent, and the state average is 61 percent. The individual elementary schools scored as follows: Glendening, 68 percent; Groveport, 65 percent; Madison, 60 percent; Dunloe, 57 percent; Sedalia, 54 percent; and Asbury, 52 percent. Briggs said she is particularly proud of Glendening, and noted, "Since I’ve been here, that is the highest I’ve seen them."
•Briggs spoke regarding a Jan. 26-30 visit from Sandy Hay of the Office of Educational Reform with the Ohio Department of Education. Briggs said they will look at six critical ears: alignment with standards, instructional practices, school climate/environment; professional development; leadership; and data-driven decision making. "They’re going to give us a full report," Briggs said, noting the district requested the visit.
•Accepted a $2,300 donation from Gregory L. Seelenbinder & Associates of Southeast Columbus for the purchase of a SmartBoard and projector to be installed in Zach Casperson’s classroom at Sedalia Elementary.
•Accepted the donation of more than 50 books from Cindy Osmeyer of Southeast Columbus to the Groveport Madison Junior High School Library.
Southeast Editor Rick Palsgrove contributed to this story.