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.
City Council committee to hold hearing on school bus fiasco following Daily News series
A City Council committee will hold a hearing on the crisis in the city’s school bus system, following a Daily News series which exposed rampant complaints about the hiring of drivers with serious criminal records.
Brooklyn Councilman Mark Treyger (D-Besonhurst), chair of the City Council Education Committee, scheduled an Oct. 16 oversight hearing on the Education Department’s Office of Pupil Transportation.
The News previously exposed massive delays and no shows in the bus system. By Sept. 14 — just the fifth day of school — the city’s busing complaint line had been flooded with calls, receiving 76,223 compared to 57,575 calls last year.
An online tally published by the city showed at least 1,010 yellow bus delays and other problems with school buses in one day, as families reported no-shows and late buses.
The News has also previously reported that more than 100 drivers did not get full background checks over the past five months and at least six drivers had been convicted of serious crimes including domestic abuse, drunk driving and secretly filming a woman in the shower. One driver had 13 prior arrests.
“First and foremost we need to understand how and why this happened,” Treyger said, calling for a full investigation. “If companies are not complying with contracts with the city of New York, there must be consequences. We’re talking about our children. This is one of our most basic functions and the city failed many of our kids.”
DOE officials announced an overhaul of the background check system on Sept. 19 — something Treyger credited to the Daily News.
“I also want to publicly thank the Daily News for its coverage of this important issue,” Treyger added. “If not for the News I’m not sure that these issues would ever have come to light.”
Meanwhile, the Education Dept. investigations unit that does the background checks has been moved to the Human Resources division on Court St. in Brooklyn from the OPT offices in Queens – a transfer that some investigators are unhappy with.
The background investigations and penalties for misconduct will now be finalized by DOE lawyers.
The City Council oversight panel will also hear testimony on a series of bills, including one that would require DOE to disclose policies and procedures involving drivers and attendants and one that would require two-way radios, cell phones and GPS devices on the buses, Treyger’s office said.
“Parents should not have to wonder where their child is or when their child is finally getting home from a school bus ride gone off track. With the measures required in this bill, parents picking up or dropping off their child could rest assured knowing when and where their school bus is, using an app on their phone,” said Council Member Ben Kallos (D-UES), a new parent who proposed the GPS bill.
Other bills include the creation of a school bus bill of rights, and more extensive training and tracking of drivers and attendants who work with kids with disabilities.
Education Department Senior Transportation Advisor Kevin Moran said city families deserve consistently good bus service.
“We’re meeting with families, bus vendors, and school leaders for their feedback on how we can improve our systems, and look forward to working together to implement more changes,” Moran said.
As of this Monday, the city schools yellow bus help line had received 129,827 calls, compared to 109,548 in the same period last year.
But school officials said the call volume has begun to slow down, suggesting some of the service problems may be easing.
DOE’s transportation chief fired after week from hell
The Department of Education’s transportation chief has been axed after an embarrassing slew of busing mishaps marred the start of the school year, officials said Friday.
Chancellor Richard Carranza, whose first full year in charge of city schools was immediately scandalized by the bus fiascos, will replace schools CEO Eric Goldstein with DOE operations veteran Kevin Moran.
A source told The Post on Friday that Goldstein is currently under investigation by the Department of Investigation for unrelated conduct that preceded the busing chaos. But it was the onslaught of transportation gaffes that did Goldstein in this week.
Enraged parents across the city complained of no-show buses, multi-hour trips to school and a host of other problems.
In addition, an investigator assigned to vet drivers accused officials of bypassing his approval in order to sign off on operators with dubious histories.
“Kevin Moran is the right leader to fix the problems in our busing system and ensure it’s reliable for our students, families, and educators,” Carranza said in a statement Friday. “He’s worked in operations at every level of our school system, with a track record of results.”
Moran was named senior adviser to the chancellor for transportation and will oversee the Office of Pupil Transportation through the end of the year.
“We are also launching a search for a new, permanent leader for school transportation,” the DOE said.
Teacher charged after killing pedestrian while driving drunk
A city public school teacher is charged after police say she killed a pedestrian while driving drunk in the Bronx.
Police say 33-year-old Shakira Price was driving on Pelham Parkway South near Eastchester Road yesterday morning when she collided with another car, traveling in the same direction.
She then kept driving and hit 57-year-old Raymond Bolan, who was crossing the street.
The incident occurred around 10 a.m. on Friday morning.
Price faces multiple charges, including vehicular manslaughter and DWI.
A spokesperson for the Department of Education called the allegations “appalling and disgraceful,” adding, “Ms. Price has already been reassigned away from the classroom and we are pursuing her removal from payroll as soon as legally possible.”
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