By Rosemary K. Otzman
John Bojanowski, the Van Buren Public Schools Transportation Supervisor who was hired two weeks before school began last summer, was fired Jan. 11, just 17 weeks later.
He said the situation he came into was “pure chaos” and he had no direction, other than to work from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m. and then bring work home. There was no policy manual for his department and no manual for the bus drivers. He said he spent six to eight weeks just dealing with discipline.
He said kids were breaking the bus windows, tearing up the seats. The phone numbers listed for the parents were incorrect and he couldn’t call them.
“It was just crazy, a chaotic mess. It took 12 hours a day to straighten that out and I had to take home my other work.”
He said the 7-8 grade students from the former North and South middle schools had longtime rivalries and putting them together in one school and on the same buses was explosive.
He said with the closing of two schools and the changed population of what were renamed McBride and Owen schools, there were all new routes and all new schools for the kids.
There was a two-tier system instead of three. The school hours were changed.
“It wasn’t set up right from the beginning and instead of saving money, it was costing more,” Bojanowski said.
“It was mayhem.”
Also, he said, the shuttle buses put together by former Transportation Director Rhonda Lyons-Manning and School Supt. Michael Van Tassel were a disaster. He referred to the children who were hours late coming home from school on the first two days. Parents were livid.
They got rid of the shuttle buses.
Manning resigned early last summer to work for the smaller Huron School District in New Boston, but she was brought back over the summer to work on the transportation plan that turned out to be chaos, Bojanowski said.
“I’m tired of people running me over. That’s why I’m spilling my guts,” said Bojanowski in a recent interview.
“The drivers just want to do their jobs, but they can’t control the kids.
“One of the drivers told me a child said to him, ‘I don’t have to listen to the bus driver’ and that his mother would go to the administration building and get him fired.
“When I heard that I was shell-shocked,” Bojanowski said.
“I talked to the parents to get the kids to listen and 99% of the parents agreed to talk to their kids. They weren’t taken off the bus, unless it was a fight.”
He said one teacher told him he retired at 27 years of service instead of 30 because he couldn’t work with School Supt. Van Tassel.
“Van Tassel shoots from the hip before he thinks,” Bojanowski said.
“He wanted transportation changed now. He wasn’t nice, not polite.”
Bojanowski said it would take time to work out a safe program for the students.
He said the administration is targeting a man in the bus garage who has been there 35 years. Bojanowski said the man does good work, is not lazy, but is just not organized. He worked with the man on organization skills.
“I was written up for calling in sick because my child was sick,” Bojanowski said. He said he was written up because he didn’t call the administration building as well as his office.
“I got written up because I couldn’t stop parents from calling the administration building,” he said, adding, “How in the heck can I stop someone from calling?”
He said there are cameras on all the buses and when there is a problem, they have to check the videos and it takes two to three days to look at all the video.
“One child hit another and it took us a couple days to sort it out… They used to have one person dealing with discipline, but now we’re doing it all.”
He said he liked to do in-service training for the new drivers who are getting used to the job and to work with the kids instead of throwing them off the bus. Those in the Administration Building tell him to throw them off the bus, he said.
He said he was given three days to put a handbook together and Human Resources Director Shonta Langford-Green gave him the Ann Arbor handbook and said to just use that. He said he wanted to put it together written specifically for Van Buren and he got it done in late November and turned it in. He said he never got it back or had a meeting to discuss it.
“Drivers had no direction,” he said, recalling he had been directed to fire two because they weren’t conducting their buses right and were still on probation. He said all the drivers have to go through a Wayne County training course and those drivers hadn’t even had the course yet. They shouldn’t have been fired, he said.
“You can pull the videos of any senior driver or new driver and you’ll find the kids out of control,” Bojanowski stated.
He said kids are throwing things at the driver while they are driving and the administrators wouldn’t let them do anything about it.
He said when he investigates and says what happened, the parents call him a liar even though it’s on the videotape.
Bojanowski said he got written up when he showed a parent a videotape. It was discovered the district suspended the wrong kid because there was a mix-up in names.
“I didn’t know you couldn’t show it,” Bojanowski said, adding he believes it could be requested under the Freedom of Information Act.
“There was nothing that I did to deserve a write-up. If anyone else was in my shoes they would have done the same thing. I wouldn’t put the district in liability.
“And, they wanted me to apologize,” Bojanowski said of the administrators.
His immediate supervisor is Finance Director Karen Moffitt.
He said she directed him to prepare a policy and procedure handbook for parent call-in procedure, safety procedures for drivers, and a school emergency plan for drivers when there’s a knife or gun on the bus.
It was due Jan. 10 and he said it emailed it to Moffitt at 10 a.m. Jan. 10 and she sent back a reply saying she had received it and would review it.
On Jan. 11, Bojanowski said he walked into Moffitt’s office and she was printing off what he had sent. She hadn’t looked at it yet.
That’s when Human Resources Director Green walked in and said he was fired.
He said when he asked why, she replied “It doesn’t matter. You’re terminated.”
Bojanowski said he didn’t do anything
wrong and she said he didn’t get his assigned work in on time.
“They’re all from Ann Arbor,” said Bojanowski, noting Supt. Van Tassel lives in Ann Arbor, Green is from Ann Arbor and Van Tassel’s private secretary Angela Stroud is Green’s friend.
“Moffitt said nothing in my defense,” he recalled sadly. “Maybe she was worried about her job.”
“When the discipline got heavy, I asked for help and was told to fire a mechanic to get the funds,” Bojanowski said.
Bojanowski said the people in his office were nice to parents on the phone – he could hear them — but the parents said the opposite and he was told to discipline them.
“They never set foot in our office except when coming over to discipline me. They don’t know how the operation runs,” he said of the administration.
Bojanowski, 45, started at Northville as a bus mechanic and then was supervisor for 15 years until Northville privatized.
“I wrote the Request for Proposals and wrote myself out of a job,” he recalled.
He worked for the firm that privatized Plymouth for three months, but that was a bad experience. He said they told him to put a girl from Detroit to work and then she was accused of stealing a wallet. There were three people on the bus and the kids were all in wheelchairs. There was a warrant for her arrest, but no records on the woman in the files.
He worked for Farmington for eight months dispatching and routing, but he wanted to get back into supervision so he came to Van Buren after Manning left.
Bojanowski said this Van Buren situation has ruined his name.
“That place is not run correctly and they wanted me to turn it around in 17 weeks. I tried to stand behind the bus drivers and get the morale up there.”
He said the bus drivers are diverse and go against each other and the senior drivers pick on the substitute drivers, but that’s the way it is.
“The garage was perfect. They knew what they were doing. I can’t believe they want to cut a mechanic. I did a report on other districts and came up the recommendation that they can’t cut mechanics or the state scores will go down. Nobody discussed that with me.”
He said there is a lack of communication in the district.
“Mr. Van Tassel shoots from the hip and doesn’t think it through. People in the administration building are scared to death of him. You do what he says or you’re done. They have nothing nice to say about him and talk about him behind his back.
“He’s just a rude, rude person. The guy needs to step back and look at things.
“He didn’t build the high school, as he thinks. The former administration built it.”
“They cause a hostile work environment with people afraid of being fired. It’s no fun to go to work.”
Bojanowski said the woman who used to be in charge of checking accounts at the transportation department is now in charge of the department. He said the woman doing the routing has been moved to the high school because the one in charge now doesn’t like her. He asked how can the router give routes to the drivers when she’s over at the high school instead of the transportation office?
Another woman has been moved from a part-time position into a full-time union position that should have been posted, he said.
He said the porta potty in the yard next to the bus garage is for the drivers to use in the freezing cold.
“They don’t take care of their people,” he said.
Bojanowski said he is concerned that the one-foot line he requested along the sidewalk to keep the kids back from the buses never was painted at Owen School for the safety of the kids. That should have been done before school started, he said.
“I also asked for that at the elementaries for the safety of those kids,” he said, noting teachers can tell the kids to stay on the other side of that line and they will be out of the way of turning buses.
“I probably would have quit if I knew they wouldn’t back me up,” Bojanowski said, adding, “I wouldn’t take the job back now if they offered it.”
He said he will be getting his pay and benefits through Feb. 2. Another part of his contract has yet to be addressed, he said.
“This is the sloppiest school district I’ve ever seen. Nobody follows up,” he said.
He said Moffitt, who came from Redford where they privatized transportation, told him that Durham was coming in to Van Buren to analyze the transportation department to see if they can save some money by privatizing.
Bojanowski said there is a serious pot problem in the schools and a lot in the middle school. And, they are selling it on the buses.
He said he found a bag of marijuana on one bus and called the police, but nothing was done. He said a kid would put the bag down in the seat when he gets off and the other kid comes on and takes the bag from the seat.
He said during the first two weeks of school a kid brought a bb gun on the bus and he was put off the bus for three days, which he thought was not enough, noting the kid could bring a real gun next time.
He also has found knives and other weapons on the bus.
“We have principals driving kids home from school after they’ve been suspended from the bus for infractions. What kind of punishment is that?
“That’s when I really knew things were bad. It makes me crazy.”
Bojanowski said he drove a bus for a week at Van Buren when they were short drivers.
“I felt like I was getting stretched in every direction … They wanted it done their way or no way.”
By Rosemary K. Otzman