Clean BKW dept., out by snowfall

The Enterprise — Marcello Iaia

Transit and transition: The transportation department at Berne-Knox-Westerlo is in flux as interim director Martin Dratz has been tasked with updating its faulty records, looking for efficiencies in bus routes, and discussing with administrators the skills necessary for his successor.

BERNE — Records for bus drivers were incomplete, inaccurate, or late at Berne-Knox-Westerlo, leading to 194 violations of state law after BKW shared a transportation director with another district for two years.

Now, in a leadership vacuum, the interim superintendent has brought in two retired school administrators he trusts to have BKW’s transportation department comply with state requirements.

Interim Superintendent Lonnie Palmer and the school board have hired a new interim business official, Mark Kellett, and interim transportation director, Martin Dratz, through the Board of Cooperative Educational Services to address BKW’s violations of Article 19A of the state’s Vehicle and Traffic Law and Part 6 of the Commissioner’s Regulations. The three men have intersected during their careers in Capital Region public schools.

Palmer, who officially started at BKW in July, said that all of the violations have been corrected by now, and, according to an evaluation of bus routes by Dratz, he believes at least one route, and possibly two, can be eliminated for a $100,000 savings.

One of the largest expenses for any rural school district — transportation — became a few thousand dollars larger in May when the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles fined BKW for the 19A violations.

Schoharie’s transportation department said Denise Towne, who submitted her resignation from the director post to BKW in July, is no longer working at Schoharie, but at First Student, a private school-busing firm recently contracted with Niskayuna Central School District. BKW Business Official David Hodgkinson submitted his resignation around the same time. Towne could not be reached for comment.

As a result of BKW’s pursuit of a Capital Region BOCES planning grant to correct the issues, Palmer said, the DMV lowered the civil penalty from $5,100 to $3,800.

“All I can tell you is that, apparently, it was too much, trying to do two districts at once,” Palmer said of the shared transportation director’s duties between the BKW and Schoharie departments. “The supervisor couldn’t keep up, so, when the DMV people came in and started checking the records, especially with drivers who didn’t work here, and with things being done late, it didn’t look right.”

The shared role was part of an inter-municipal agreement that began in 2011. It brought an annual savings of roughly $45,000 for BKW, which was included in the 2013-14 budget. Schoharie’s transportation director stayed in the department as a lead mechanic.

Palmer told The Enterprise Tuesday that Kellet and Dratz will consider different models of how to reorganize the transportation department so that requirements continue to be met after Dratz leaves. While the two districts shared a director, the BKW department had two part-time clerks, for a total of one-and-a-half positions.

“We’re trying to reduce that split, split, split kind of deal and, instead, look at an arrangement that won’t be more costly but would provide more continuous and consistent service,” said Palmer. He said the department may not have three separate people to fill one-and-a-half positions, and that their specific skills or titles — as a 19A examiner, dispatcher, or supervisor — would play a role.

The violations

Palmer said the violations were not the fault of a single employee.

“It wasn’t that anyone was in an unsafe situation, but we had not dotted “i’s” and crossed “t’s”

The BOCES planning grant Palmer has obtained splits the money spent on the business official and transportation director salaries among the BOCES services of interim officials. More than half of the BOCES expense for BKW is eligible for reimbursement. He indicated that he would consider the option of using a BOCES contract to fill the permanent position to oversee transportation.

Palmer said of Towne not reorganizing the department, “She doesn’t have the skill set that’s needed to come in and evaluate this program and figure out where to go in the future.”

Palmer estimated that half of the 194 violations were the result of drivers who were no longer employed by the district having been left on record as BKW bus drivers. The DMV therefore saw their files as lacking in medical records, driving tests, and other information required under article 19A of the state’s Vehicle and Traffic Law and Part 6 of the Commissioner’s Regulations.

Other violations were due to late or improperly filled out records.

The charges also included failing to obtain and file a driving record and personal interview for employees. Other records weren’t obtained “in the required timely manner,” with some having been turned in more than five months after being due, according to the citation.

For other charges, 19A files lacked current abstracts, or they hadn’t been signed by the driver or a certified examiner.

Charges were made for each individual employee’s file. Failing to obtain, retain, and conduct a test, interview, or record were separate charges.

Dratz and Kellett are both retired from the Schalmont Central School District, where Dratz was a transportation director and Kellett was a business official.

“He said the reason he came was because he worked with me before when I was high-school principal at Averill Park…” Palmer said of Dratz, who is 84. “And he liked both of us and he wanted to work with us and wanted to help us out.” He said Dratz plans to be done before winter comes.

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