- The Washington Times - Friday, July 27, 2001

D.C. school bus drivers are complaining that a uniform-supply contractor is confiscating their uniforms today before the school system can replace them.
According to interviews with bus drivers and bus-terminal managers, the uniform supply company, Cintas, is repossessing the uniforms held by the D.C. public school system's 1,300 bus drivers and attendants because the system failed to make timely payments to the company. If employees don't return the uniforms, they will be charged for them, bus drivers said.
"We have had these uniforms for over a year," said one driver, who declined to be named. "I don't understand why we should now be told we have to pay for them when it was [the school system] that didn't pay the bill."
Cintas officials declined to comment.
But D.C. school officials said Cintas refused to enter into a written contract with the school system, forcing officials to shop around for a new company. In the meantime, the city is in negotiations with another company to provide new uniforms this fall.
"The contract was drawn up and sent to [Cintas], but we couldn't reach an agreement with them," said schools spokeswoman Denise Tann, who denied that the school system defaulted on the $100,000 contract. "The bus drivers should have their new uniforms when school starts this fall."
Bus drivers and attendants are required to adhere to a dress code until the new uniforms arrive.
The dispute arises as tensions are already high between transportation staff and top school officials trying to revamp the department.
In the past month, three timekeepers have been suspended after being accused of claiming unauthorized time equaling more than $20,000, school sources said. School officials are looking for others involved in the scheme after one employee confessed. The investigation is taking longer than usual, school officials said, because employees suspected of doctoring time were able to erase time data on system computers before they were suspended.
Meanwhile, transportation employees continue to complain about inaccurate leave and paycheck totals. Hundreds of bus drivers last summer staged protests because paychecks were late or inaccurate. Bus drivers said these issues have not been resolved.
One bus driver, who reported to one of the suspended timekeepers, said she is certain her paycheck and leave accumulation has been inaccurate frequently.
"They have been taking my leave time for sure," said Regina Pixley-Davis. "They told me in April I had no leave, but that is impossible. I come to work everyday and should have more."
The department also is coming under fire for failing to transport special-education children to summer school punctually. A week before the program ends, transportation officials continue to enter address changes for children because of a delay in getting the information, causing a number of special-education children to be late for school or not picked up all at.
"This has been a terrible problem," said Beth Goodman, an attorney who represents special-education children involved in a 1997 lawsuit against the city. "They spend their summer program making up what they missed, then miss the makeup program. That is the last straw."
The transportation department has long been criticized for failing to transport many of the almost 4,000 special-education students to school safely and on time, despite spending $10,000 per child to do so.
Part of the problem has been the struggle to recruit enough drivers and attendants and ensure their regular attendance.
After court-mandated transportation administrator David Healey was brought in to reform the department, parents and residents said there have been some changes.
Nine months ago, an average of 50 percent of the buses arrived on time, officials said. That average crept up to 80 percent this spring. Nine months ago, 20 percent of the more than 1,000 drivers and attendants were no-shows on any given day. That has dropped to 15 percent.
School officials credit improvements to changes in organization, improved technology and training, hiring of more qualified staff and firing of up to 100 employees.
"We're in the initial stages of reform," Mr. Healey said in an interview last month. "It's been difficult, but there have been improvements. Still, we're not where we want to be."

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