05/16/14 — School district fires Smith

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School district fires Smith

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on May 16, 2014 1:46 PM

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Raymond Smith

Wayne County Public Schools' transportation director is out.

"As of Thursday, Raymond Smith is no longer with Wayne County Public Schools," said Ken Derksen, director of communication services. "He was officially terminated as of this afternoon."

No reason for Smith's dismissal was given, but it comes on the heels of the fourth time the state has inspected the district's bus fleet and returned poor safety marks.

Smith was hired in the position in June 2004. His mother, the late Thelma Smith, was a longtime Board of Education member who died March 1.

In recent years, the district's bus safety scores have dropped from among the best in the state to among the worst.

The law requires school districts to inspect each bus in their fleets every 30 days. The state Department of Public Instruction is required to conduct an annual inspection, taking a random sample of buses from each route. About 10 percent of the fleet is chosen for the inspection.

In 2010-11, the district scores were at 33.95, better than most districts in the eastern region, where the average was 43.9. On a rating score of 0-100, zero is considered a perfect score.

In 2011-12, WCPS scored 86.4 and it improved only slightly the following year, with a score of 78.

District officials attempted to take action to improve the situation.

In June 2013, Smith blamed some of the problems on high turnover and an inexperienced staff in the bus mechanic pool.

A week later, when he was scheduled to make a presentation before the school board's finance policy committee and the superintendent, he was a no-show. The meeting was rescheduled, but after keeping the committee and his boss, the superintendent, waiting for an hour and Smith could not be reached, the meeting was disbanded.

That meeting, also, was rescheduled and subsequently canceled.

Later in the month, Smith claimed he had a reorganization plan he believed would streamline bus scheduling and maintenance, but said that funding and timing would delay implementation until the following school year.

In August 2013, Smith said the transportation department was monitoring safety inspections more closely and increased the layers of checks and balances.

When the buses were inspected in January, though, the scores again fell to 85.85 and 13 of the 23 inspected buses were pulled from the roadway due to safety violations.

The superintendent implemented still more changes, including immediate inspection of all buses, a restructuring of the transportation department and an invitation for the state to return at the end of 60 days and do another random inspection to determine if further actions were needed.

The state returned Monday, inspected 10 randomly selected buses and parked four of them. The inspection score was 73.10.

Smith's dismissal came from the superintendent and was not presented to the school board for a vote.

"I initiated the termination," Taylor said this morning. "If he wants to appeal it to the board, he can appeal the termination to the board."

Since it is a personnel issue, details were not made public.

But the superintendent said that as part of the restructuring, one mechanic in the department had been let go today.

There was no word on whether other personnel changes will be made in the department, but at the outset, a list of actions was released that will take place immediately, including clamping down on evaluating the department and staff. The department will also implement a flex schedule until the end of the school year, allowing mechanics more opportunities to inspect the entire fleet in the evenings and on weekends, when buses are not in use.

The district will also work with the state and have a DPI Transportation Services Section inspection team conduct a safety inspection on all district buses before the start of the 2014-15 school year.

"Our focus now is to restructure and reorganize as needed to improve the maintenance program in the transportation department," Taylor said. "Our goal is to assure parents that their children are riding safely to and from school each day.

"We have a competent and capable transportation staff that stands ready to meet the challenges before them as we move forward."