Columbus City Schools Superintendent Dan Good suspended the top six officials in the district's transportation department while an investigation into allegations of gambling and intimidation at a Downtown bus compound continues.
Columbus City Schools Superintendent Dan Good suspended the top six officials in the district’s transportation department while an investigation into allegations of gambling and intimidation at a Downtown bus compound continues.
The move means that the top leadership responsible for overseeing 900 transportation workers who transport 30,000 students a day during the school year won’t report to work.
Assigned to remain home with pay are:
• Steve Simmons, the director of transportation, who leads the entire busing operation.
• Carleen Bussey, transportation-operations manager and second-in-command under Simmons.
• Willie Wheeless, Evelyn Burge-Dehl and Michelle Brooks, supervisors at the Downtown bus depot at Fort Hayes, where the gambling and the alleged intimidation of a driver who blew the whistle took place.
• Judy Collmar, a supervisor at the Frebis Bus Compound.
The six are to be available to the district by telephone during work hours.
“The District may also consider other potential actions once the investigation has been completed,” district spokesman Jeff Warner said in a statement.
Warner couldn’t say why the six were suspended yesterday, or how long the suspensions might last.
Records show that district investigators have been aware of the allegations since at least May 16, and the game of chance that started the problems was carried out in late April.
The transportation department won’t be disrupted with so many of its leaders gone, Warner said. “ We will have supervision in place,” he said.
The Dispatch reported on Thursday that district officials had transferred a school-bus driver, Veoletta Svarda, to a desk job for her safety after she blew the whistle on gambling at the Fort Hayes depot. The gambling involved a privately run “scratch-off” card game in which drivers sold 720 tickets for $1 each. One of the suspended supervisors, Burge-Dehl, held the money and ended up winning two of four $75 grand prizes.
Svarda charged that organizers had changed the rules and cheated her out of a $150 payout. After Svarda threatened to inform Downtown administrators, Wheeless paid her $150 out of an envelope of cash he pulled from a file cabinet. Svarda still reported the conduct.
She then began to fear that co-workers had tampered with the brakes on her bus after she found an oily liquid around a tire. She also found animal feces neatly deposited in the bus cup holder.
She said the former union president — who still is a high-ranking union official — threatened her after Svarda told her co-workers that she would report the gambling to district administrators. The union official, Betty Simmons-Talley, denied to investigators that she had threatened Svarda.
Svarda participated in the gambling, buying 15 $1 tickets. She believed that one of her tickets entitled her to one of two $150 grand prizes that had been promised when she bought the tickets. But organizers changed the rules to instead award four $75 prizes. The result was that Svarda won nothing. But her supervisor, Burge-Dehl, who had bought three tickets, had two grand-prize winners.
Burge-Dehl appears to have been very lucky: The odds of two of her three tickets winning were 1 in 14,420, said Oana Mocioalca, a professor of mathematical sciences at Kent State University.
The district said earlier this week that it had notified Columbus police and the state auditor of the investigation.
The money that Wheeless paid Svarda came from an “employee store,” where workers raise money for charity and special events such as picnics by selling other drivers water bottles, bags of chips and other snacks. The district seized about $3,500 in store money from its three bus depots for safekeeping while the investigation continues.