- The Washington Times - Friday, January 18, 2002

D.C. school officials promised action yesterday over the fate of almost a dozen employees accused of taking thousands of dollars meant for the school system from a local vending contractor.

"The new board is determined to hold people accountable for their performance and their actions," said District 3 school board member Tommy Wells. "We expect no different in this case."

Yesterday, The Washington Times reported that 11 D.C. school employees in transportation are under investigation for accepting an estimated $20,000 or more over an 18-month period from a contractor who operated vending machines in five buildings at school bus lots.

Officials also say the school system may have lost out on more than $100,000 in vending profits because of both the diversion of funds that should have gone to the District and as a consequence of an unusually low-percentage agreement with the contractor.

The Times also reported yesterday that a top school attorney reviewing the matter has argued against punitive action for the transportation employees involved. Because the vending machines were not the property of the school system, no theft had occurred and no crime had been committed, the official said, according to school sources close to the investigation.

The employees, who are still at their posts, include five bus-terminal managers, three assistant terminal managers, one dispatcher and two bus attendants. Typically, theft and other misconduct result in employee termination and possible referral to police, school officials said.

The payments to employees were uncovered late last month and turned over to security officials to investigate, according to sources close to the investigation. Investigators found dozens of canceled checks made out to transportation employees by the vendor.

Employees told school officials they didn't realize they were doing anything wrong. Some brought in piles of cash to return to the school system, while others promised payments from future paychecks.

"The matter is under investigation," said Linda Boyd, school system spokeswoman, who said the school system would move forward after receiving the final report on the investigation. At this time, she added, school officials will decide whether to place the employees on administrative leave.

This is the second time in less than a year that transportation employees have come under scrutiny. Last summer, six employees were fired after claiming unauthorized leave time totaling more than $20,000.

The accusations also follow an $80 million shortfall in last year's school system budget that city finance officials attribute to special-education and transportation costs. That matter is currently under investigation by the city auditor and private auditors because school officials dispute the shortfall exists.

In June 2000, a firm hired by the school system to bus special-education students pulled out of its contract.

When Laidlaw Transit Inc. withdrew, Caps Vending Services was to follow. But sources said D.C. schools Executive Officer Janie McCullough intervened and vending services remained without an official contract. The owner of the vending service, Charles Butler, said Wednesday that he just turned the school system's share over to terminal employees.

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