by Doug Martin
As the Muncie, Indiana, privatized school bus fiasco deepens, parents protest at bus stops, kids get lost on buses on the way home, 911 calls are made, buses never show up or are late, school gets cancelled for days because of the chaos, and the Indiana Department of Education steps in to help clean up the mess, the local community needs to know there were many red flags before Muncie school officials signed the $1.4 million contract with Auxilio bus services, a private company now located in Lansing, Michigan.
Besides the numerous 2012 troubling news reports out of Michigan on how Auxilio handled school service, an 84-page report, which surfaced in late February 2017, a few weeks before the Muncie school board vote, outlines the troubles parents and community members in Monroe County, Indiana, feared Auxilio would bring to their school district. Although there appears to be a lot more to the story than just Auxilio, the private company’s past troubles, arrogance, and secrecy should be known.
KID INTO THE BUS WINDOW
In 2012 in Michigan’s Galesburg-Augusta school district, parents, too, protested the Auxilio takeover of bus transportation, after a student videotaped an Auxilio “on-site managerHeidi Mullin “roughly pushing a 7-year-old into a bus window.”
Since many instances with the 7-year old and other children on the bus had been reported and Auxilio had “assigned a new driver and a new bus aide to no avail,” Mullin’s job was to ride on the bus “to assess the problems and figure out a strategy for resolution.”
Mullin was fired, after the video made its rounds on Facebook, but questions about her hiring led to even more questions. After a freedom of information act request, news reporters found that Mullin resigned from a previous job at Portage Public Schools “six months after signing a ‘last-chance agreement’ following a string of written reprimands and unpaid suspensions.” According to a change-of-status form, Mullin was "not eligible to be rehired by Portage Public Schools." On her Portage job application, too, Mullin claims she was fired from B&B Trucking in Kalamazoo because "they didn't think I had the right attitude to drive (a) truck."
When asked about the hire, at first Auxilio’s CEO Ed Dollin told MLive, a media group with 10 newspaper locations in Michigan, that "We screened her very well” but later admitted, according to MLive, “that Mullin's background check did not include talking to Mullin's previous supervisor.” He claimed, too, MLive writes, that “the information obtained from Portage was limited to a form where a Portage human-resources worker mistakenly checked a box indicating that Mullin had no record of professional misconduct.”
At one point after the Mullin bus incident with the 7-year old, CEO Dollin said that “I think right now we’re a whipping boy. I think we’re being vilified because we’re coming in to save money and we’re making changes.”
A group of mothers, however, didn’t buy the argument and protested outside the “district’s offices calling for the district to protect its students, telling Fox 17 TV that the privatization of the district’s busing is at fault.” At a school board meeting, too, “Galesburg residents questioned Auxilio's competency, citing numerous problems with Auxilio's drivers and procedures.”
"IT'S NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS"
Earlier in 2012, Galesburg-Augusta signed a $356,750 contract with the bus company, although the school district’s supt., Tim Vagts, has admitted that “Auxilio's references did not include any districts served by the firm since its formation in October 2011” and that he didn’t know any of the bus service’s other clients. Vagts said he recommended the bus company because it was the lowest bidder, one of the same reasons given by Muncie school officials.
According to MLive, at one point when Auxilio CEO Dollin was asked about the company’s other clients, he said "It's none of your business." When reporter Julie Mack looked into the Cincinnati address Auxilio had listed on its website, she found that the address was in a redevelopment zone across from an adult bookstore and was “actually the office for the Midwest EB-5 Regional Center, an organization that works with immigrants who want to start businesses in the United States.”
During the Muncie school board vote in March, Central High School teacher Allen Kidd also called “into question how little information is included on Auxilio's website.” Auxilio CEO Dollin, in response, said that the company website was under construction and that it has clients in eight Michigan districts and some Ohio private schools.
Currently, as of August 3, 2017, Auxilio lists its address as Lansing, Michigan, on its website. On its current and past clients page, Auxilio has written “Stay tuned for a full list of our clients!” and that testimonials are “Coming Soon.”
In Muncie, the narrative explaining some of the school bus chaos is that a good-many bus drivers quit supposedly just before the school year began. A similar story was told by the Galesburg-Augusta district and Auxilio, too.
According to MLive, there were no drivers for special-ed children enrolled in summer programs. Dollin and supt. Vagts “blamed the problem on Galesburg bus drivers who had promised to work for Auxilio and then reneged at the last minute.” But those drivers “say they were laid off by the school district and had yet to receive a job offer as drivers for Auxilio.”
Dollin later claimed that “he thought Galesburg would keep the special-ed drivers on the district payroll for the duration of the summer program and didn't find out otherwise until Aug. 1, before Auxilio had finalized its hires.”
When Indiana’s Monroe County Community School Corporation hired Auxilio to do a third of its bus routes because it was a low bidder local parents and workers, in the introduction to an 84-page report entitled “No to Auxilio, Yes to Our Community,” stated the school board’s decision to hire Auxilio was “based on an incomplete, and in some important ways misleading, information set.”
The parents and workers claimed, among other things, that outsourced jobs could drain money from the community, children’s safety could be compromised, and employees who questioned decisions could possibly be fired.
The “No to Auxilio” report authors also quote from The Independent, a local Michigan newspaper, about problems at the Dundee Community high school where Auxilio does maintenance work and bus transportation.
When bathroom stalls were missing at the school, an Auxilio employee, worried about school safety, “put in a maintenance work order for the stall doors in the bathroom by the locker room to be replaced…., turned it into his immediate Auxilio supervisor and the work was never done.”
Not knowing if the maintenance department or school administrators received the request, the Auxilio employee “posted a picture of the stalls with doors missing to social media to draw more community attention to the problem. Auxilio’s response to the post was to fire the employee.”
There are many other issues Monroe County community members bring up in the “No to Auxilio” report, including the fiasco at Galesburg-Augusta.
It will be interesting to watch this disaster capitalism fiasco unfold in the upcoming days and weeks.