While parents have deluged a city hotline with nearly 102,000 complaints about late or no-show school buses, 25 employees in the Department of Education’s Office of Pupil Transportation get taxpayer-funded city cars to commute from their homes.
Some — including managers with cushy six-figure gigs — do little or no field work, according to co-workers and records.
“They’re all seen in the office all day. They travel to and from work on the taxpayer’s dime,” one insider fumed.
They also get city credit cards for gas.
Those who have enjoyed the perk include:
OPT safety director Paul Weydig, a manager who oversees the vetting of bus drivers. Last week, investigator Eric Reynolds, a retired NYPD detective, accused Weydig and others of bypassing him to sign off on drivers without him doing a criminal background check. Weydig, who lives in Port Washington, L.I.– 24 miles from OPT’s Long Island City office — took his city-issued Ford sedan home and back, doing little or no field work on a daily basis, records show.
His wife, Lisa D’Amato, a contract compliance officer whose unit rubber-stamped the questionable bus-driver applications, rode with him. Since The Post raised questions about the arrangement last week, Weydig “is no longer in possession of a city car,” a co-worker said. Weydig did not return calls. DOE officials would not comment.
Everett Parker, a D’Amato underling and Weydig pal, also stopped driving a city car last week after inquiries by The Post. His trip reports list “H to W to H” (home to work to home) nearly every day.
Elena Ruocco, a manager of field inspection, lives in Staten Island. She drops off her child at school before heading to the office, sources said. “While other kids waited for hours, Ruocco’s kid got to school on time in the comfort of a city-owned vehicle driven by his mother while she is getting paid by the taxpayer,” a colleague said. City rules forbid use of city cars for personal reasons.
Rabbi Morris Ausfresser, a liaison to yeshivas, who lives in Brooklyn. Another OPT employee serves as his personal assistant and chauffeur. “I can’t answer any questions,” he said Friday.
Dominick Ragusa, a recently retired investigator. He made a round-trips from his Queens home almost daily with virtually no field work, records show.
Under city rules, employees may take cars home if they “perform work frequently in the field,” respond to emergencies during non-business hours, or if there is not secure parking to leave the car overnight. OPT has a spacious, fenced lot.
Parker, Ruocco and Ragusa could not be reached for comment.
DOE spokeswoman Miranda Barbot would not answer questions about the cars, saying “This matter is being investigated.”
The probe came as the OPT hotline received 101,814 bus complaints, compared to 86,763 at the same time last year, Barbot said.
83-year-old man walking with wife in Queens fatally struck by school bus
MIDDLE VILLAGE, Queens (WABC) — A man was fatally struck by a school bus in Queens Wednesday morning.
Authorities say the 83-year-old victim was walking with his wife at 67th Drive and 73rd Place in Middle Village just after 8:30 a.m. when the school bus made a left turn at the intersection and struck him.
He was pronounced dead at the scene. His wife was not injured. He was later identified as Bing Nuan Chen, who area residents say owns a popular Chinese restaurant.
There were no children on the bus at the time
The driver stayed at the scene and the investigation is ongoing, but witnesses said they believed sun glare played a role in the crash and that the driver was distraught after the accident.
“When we looked out the window, we saw the school bus and we saw the door open,” one witness said. “The bus driver was on the floor, flat, and he was screaming. So we thought at first it was the bus driver that got hurt. But what happened was he must have went and looked and saw that he hit someone, and that this poor person was underneath the bus. He was screaming. He was very devastated. He couldn’t get out. He was laying in the middle of the floor. It’s a devastating thing.”
Neighbors say the intersection is dangerous because it doesn’t have any painted lines indicating a crosswalk, and they believe that also may have been a factor.
At this point, it is unclear if any charges will be filed.
Technology Demonstration Highlights Potential Benefits of Federal School Bus Stop Legislation
Congressional representatives who are championing a federal bill that targets motorists who illegally pass school buses marked National School Bus Safety Week by attending a demonstration of the very technologies they want to implement.
U.S. Reps. Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.) and Julia Brownley (D-Calif.), and Sens. Todd Young (R-Ind.) and Gary Peters (D-Mich.), sponsors of the STOP for School Buses Act, attended a school bus safety technology showcase that was hosted by the National School Transportation Association (NSTA) on Wednesday. The event featured a school bus that was equipped with examples of technology that is used to prevent stop-arm violations.
“Every driver shares the roads with school buses, and we all have a role to play in keeping kids safe,” Rep. Walorski said. “Today’s event was an important opportunity to learn more about innovative technologies that can help prevent drivers from illegally passing school buses, and to discuss our bipartisan efforts in Congress to ensure students are safe on their way to and from school. The STOP for School Buses Act will help states and local communities take the most effective actions to prevent tragedies and save lives.”
Indiana Fatalities Remembered
Oct. 30 marks the one-year anniversary of the tragic deaths of three young Indiana students, twin boys, and their step-sister, who were killed by a motorist as they crossed a rural road to board their waiting school bus. The driver was found guilty this week of three counts of reckless homicide.
Sen. Young said that the state and the entire nation can no longer accept similar tragedies as the new normal. “Today was an opportunity to raise support for the Stop for School Buses Act and spread awareness for the much-needed review of existing safety laws surrounding our school buses,” he added.
Congresswoman Brownley noted, “As a mom and a former school board member, ensuring our children get safely to and from school every day is an issue that is near and dear to my heart.” She commented that “We need to do more to educate drivers and to assess new technologies that can prevent illegal school bus passing. Kids’ lives depend on it.”
Sen. Peters added, “No parent should ever have to worry about their child being injured or even losing their life while waiting for or boarding their school bus. He said that “We’ve seen a growing number of incidents that pose a risk to the safety of our students and we must take action. It’s time for the Senate to pass the STOP for School Buses Act. I am hopeful that new technologies, combined with a comprehensive review of best school bus safety practices, will help dramatically reduce these tragic accidents.”
John Benish, Jr., NSTA president and chief operating officer of school bus contractor Cook-Illinois Corporation in Chicago, said the event demonstrated the growing problem of illegal passing of stopped school buses and showcased new technologies that promise to prevent the problem.
“NSTA thanks Congresswomen Walorski and Brownley, and Senators Young and Peters, for being present with us today, and for their tremendous leadership on this issue, and all who attended the event today,” said Benish. “We look forward to continuing to work with Congress to advance this legislation and prevent needless tragedies.”
Benish added, “As a father of four, and an owner a family operated school transportation company ensuring students are transported in a safe and efficient manner, is of utmost importance. I look forward to a continuing dialogue with policymakers about ways we can make the safest form of transportation even safer.”
One of the technologies that was demonstrated is a predictive stop-arm system from Safe Fleet that uses artificial intelligence to determine if other vehicles on the road will stop or not for the school bus. If it determines a vehicle is about to pass, it sounds an alarm to warn the students and emits visible signals to the school bus driver.
“As the industry’s trusted leader in school bus safety technologies for over 20 years, we are pleased to have participated in today’s live demonstrations,” said Chris Akiyama, vice president of school buses at Safe Fleet. “Earlier today, we showed the Predictive Stop Arm and Driver Alert solutions in action and how they can proactively keep students out of harm’s way. Our solution aims to save lives by gauging the risk of stop-arm violations, and notifying drivers and students before an accident occurs. We look forward to a future where the School Bus Danger Zone can become a safety zone.”
NSTA thanked the sponsors and cosponsors of the STOP Act for their leadership in advancing the legislation.
Curt Macysyn, NSTA executive director, told School Transportation News, “The precipitous growth of this illegal, and dangerous activity by distracted motorists, continues to highlight the need for immediate passage of the STOP for School Buses Act.”
Walorski, Young, Brownley, and Peters, earlier this year introduced the STOP for School Buses Act (H.B. 2218 / S.B. 1254), to improve student safety by examining ways to prevent dangerous, illegal passing of school buses when children are present. The bipartisan, bicameral bill would direct the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to conduct a comprehensive review of existing laws and programs, recommend best practices and create a nationwide public safety campaign.
The STOP for School Buses Act would order a comprehensive, nationwide review of efforts to prevent illegal passing of buses. Under the bill, USDOT would:
- Compile illegal passing laws in all states, including levels of enforcement and penalties.
- Review existing public safety measures and programs to prevent illegal passing of school buses.
- Issue recommendations on best practices for preventing illegal passing.
- Evaluate the effectiveness of various technologies that may help prevent illegal passing incidents.
- Review driver education materials in all states to determine whether more information about illegal passing should be provided to drivers.
- Research connections between the illegal passing of school buses and other safety issues.
- Create and execute a public safety messaging campaign to promote safe driving when children are present and highlight the dangers of illegal passing.
Walorski represents the 2nd Congressional District of Indiana and is a member of the House Ways and Means Committee.
By David George
New York School Bus Contractors Association Kicks Off National School Bus Safety Week
LATHAM, N.Y. — The New York School Bus Contractors Association (NYSBCA), whose members transport nearly 60 percent of the 2.7 million children riding a yellow school bus in New York state each day, is supporting National School Bus Safety Week. The annual event promotes school bus safety nationwide.
The theme for this year’s National School Bus Safety Week (Oct. 21-25, 2019) is “My School Bus, The Safest Form of Student Transportation!” NYSBCA is using the occasion to urge Governor Cuomo to sign a key piece of legislation into law that has been spearheaded by NYSBCA—the school bus safety awareness bill.
The school bus safety awareness bill, sponsored by Assemblywoman Rosenthal (AB 605A) and Senator Kaplan (SB2960B), passed both houses during the 2019 legislative session. NYSBCA applauds Assemblywoman Rosenthal and Senator Kaplan for their dedication and hard work in passing this important bill that will not only deter motorists from passing stopped school buses, which is happening at alarming rates, but will undoubtedly save lives.
Passing a stopped school bus is a serious violation of the vehicle and traffic law, since it places the most vulnerable members of society, our children, in grave danger. If signed into law, this legislation will ensure that drivers have a greater awareness of the law that prohibits overtaking and passing a stopped school bus. The proposed law includes a school bus safety component in the driver’s education curriculum and at least one question on school bus safety in the DMV pre-licensing written exam.
“Adding a school bus safety awareness component to the state’s driver’s education curriculum and pre-licensing exam will help ensure the safety of students statewide,” said Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal. “Students should not be put in danger when going to school and back home every day, but all too often drivers recklessly pass stopped buses. Once my bill is signed into law, this common-sense legislation will emphasize the importance of school bus safety awareness to new drivers and help to save lives.”
Senator Anna M. Kaplan said “As lawmakers, we have a solemn duty to ensure that we take every step necessary to ensure the safety of the children in our communities. So when we have a situation where an estimated 40,000 drivers in New York are illegally passing school buses each day, we have a crisis on our hands that demands attention. That’s why I’m proud to have passed legislation ensuring that drivers in this state understand the laws on school bus safety, to better protect our kids on their way to and from school.”
“Even though school buses are, by far, the safest way for a child to get to and from school every day, there is always more that can be done to make that ride even safer. Protecting our children as they travel to and from school should be just as high a priority as protecting them while at school. By ensuring that drivers are taught from the very beginning the dangers and illegality of passing a stopped school bus, we are empowering drivers to make safer decisions while on the road,” said the NYSBCA President, Corey Muirhead.
About the New York School Bus Contractors Association
The New York School Bus Contractors Association organization represents over 100 school transportation companies (school bus contractors). The industry transports more than half of all the children who ride a school bus to and from school each day. The association’s primary mission is to promote safe, reliable and cost-effective student transportation services for New York’s schoolchildren. www.nysbca.com
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