Schools transportation chief moving

Transfer is being made amid state investigation, complaints by contractors

March 03, 2004|By Walter F. Roche Jr. | Walter F. Roche Jr.,SUN STAFF

The transportation chief for the Baltimore school system is being abruptly transferred in the midst of a state investigation and widespread complaints from school bus contractors.

Valencia Baker, who had headed the transportation unit for more than two years, is being replaced Monday by Francis Aning, a longtime employee of the same agency, school officials confirmed.

Vanessa Pyatt, a spokeswoman for the school system, said Baker was being reassigned to the special-education unit, where she previously worked. Pyatt declined to discuss the reasons for the transfer, stating that personnel matters were confidential.

Baker could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Joseph Gladney of Gladney Transportation said bus company officials learned of Baker's departure at the end of a lengthy meeting yesterday that the contractors had demanded to air complaints about delayed payments and recurring scheduling problems.

Gladney said school officials promised that checks to make up for delayed payments would begin going out by the end of this week, and that Aning would be taking over for Baker.

Reginald Hill of Hill Transportation said Baker's departure was good news for the contractors who have been demanding her ouster for months.

"We're looking forward to a better relationship," said Hill. "We felt she didn't do the job."

As a result of the announcement and the promise of payments the contractors agreed to drop, at least for the moment, their plans to pull their buses out of service. They had threatened a strike if school system officials did not meet their demand for a meeting.

Baker's departure comes amid an investigation of the transportation division by state Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli. He has expanded the probe to include other school system issues, including a lucrative data processing contract.

The prosecutor's investigation was initially launched after an article in The Sun that recounted how one school bus contractor apparently had been given favorable treatment by Baker despite safety problems.

The newspaper also reported that on Baker's recommendation the system agreed to purchase 14 used school buses. Although the system paid the full $317,296 price for the buses, two of them never got to the school district. Instead they ended up with the Allender Group, Inc. the company that competitors said had been given favored treatment.

Baker also was criticized at the start of the school year, when costly cabs had to be dispatched to pick up hundreds of students because bus routes had not been assigned and some students had been left standing by the curb on the opening days of school waiting for buses that never came.

The first hint that Baker's job might be in jeopardy came last summer when a senior administrator, Oscar Jobe, was assigned to oversee the transportation division's operations.

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