Richmond Schools auditor reports claim of abuse of funds over bus driver overtime payments

Richmond School Bus 3.png
Posted at 3:55 PM, Jun 07, 2024

RICHMOND, Va. -- The Richmond School Board's auditor has reported a claim of abuse of funds to the city and state inspector generals' offices alleging misappropriation of taxpayer dollars, according to an audit.

This comes after the auditor's report found the district is paying bus drivers overtime for hours they're not working. The school board has not taken any action yet in response to the report, citing concerns with the auditor's findings.

Director of Internal Auditing for Richmond Public Schools, Doug Graeff, estimates that Richmond bus drivers will receive $1.8 million in overtime pay in 2024. Collectively since 2019, that figure has exceeded $7 million.

But Graeff notes those expenses may be unjustified.

His report points out flaws in RPS' practices and systems for tracking hours worked, finding drivers are not being required to clock in and out for their shifts. Instead, the system logs a complete shift by default.

So essentially, the audit says drivers could be paid a full regular eight hours even if they finish their routes in six hours.

Then, divers can pick up multiple after-school program shifts which each automatically pay two hours in overtime, even if the employee only drives for 45 minutes.

In theory, Graeff found a driver on a given day can be paid for working 14 hours, including time-and-a-half on six of those hours, when they might've actually worked eight-and-a-half hours.

When School Board Chair Stephanie Rizzi asked Graeff during a May board meeting whether bus drivers were knowingly logging hours they weren't working, he said, "yes."

Richmond Public Schools Transportation Audit

However the findings of the audit are receiving pushback from bus drivers.

“Richmond Public Schools has an abundance of overtime. That’s not the driver’s fault. We transport these students any and everywhere," one bus driver told the school board during a June 3 board meeting. "I get home from school sometimes at 10 o'clock at night."

She said drivers aren't to blame, because they're just abiding by a system that's been in place for many years.

Plus, they cite concerns with how contracts are set up. They said the district recently transitioned several 6-hour contracts to 8-hour contracts.

A leader of the labor union that represents Richmond transportation workers told the school board that drivers did not change their day-to-day operations, but the structure of their contracts led to an increase in overtime.

Additionally, he said the two hours in overtime pay for after-school shifts was meant to be an incentive to get employees to work those shifts.

“This is not because drivers are not doing what they’re supposed to be doing. The practices that the auditor mentioned have been the same, normal practice of this admission before this administration. It’s been there for years," the union representative said during the June 3 school board meeting.

Richmond Public Schools Transportation Audit

However, the auditor noted that in November of last year, the former transportation director told bus drivers to start clocking themselves in and out for hours worked.

That memo started an "uprising and heated debate" between drivers and the director, according to the audit. The auditor noted the director became fearful that drivers would "resign, refuse afterschool activity runs, or go on strike if not overcompensated."

The audit says the director retired in February.

Then in March, the administration tried to re-implement the practice of clocking in and out and sent a memo that drivers would only receive overtime for weekly hours worked more than 40 hours, but the school board reversed that directive.

“It made them believe that they were being accused of fraud," board member Shonda Harris-Muhammed said about drivers' response to that memo.

Since receiving information about the overpayments in April, board members have stated that the drivers didn't do anything wrong and felt blindsided by the communications they were receiving regarding their hours.

The board has repeatedly deferred taking action on the audit, and during the June 3 meeting, continued to raise questions about the completeness of the report.

"I still feel like there's not clarity to how we came up with the resolution that we did," said board member Shavonda Dixon. "Were there listening sessions done with the transportation associates? Did someone have a seat at the table to give clarity to the current practices?"

Graeff's audit states he interviewed a timekeeper, supervisors, multiple directors, and the chief operating officer to gain an understanding of the current practices.

Board member Kenya Gibson pointed out that the pandemic and change in contracts may have had an impact on overtime fluctuations. She's requesting more context about the "root causes" behind the overtime changes.

“I struggle to understand why that information wasn't included, because obviously we did point a very direct finger at the employees in suggesting that there were improprieties that were akin to stealing," Gibson said.

Richmond Public Schools Transportation Audit

Board members Mariah White and Cheryl Burke both incorrectly stated during the meeting that the audit did not present any recommendations.

The audit included seven recommendations for the board's consideration, including compensating employees for what they actually work, mandating drivers record and attest to their hours, and updating the time tracking system.

"Did you read the audit?" Graeff asked.

"I did. I read your audit, and you don't have to be so condescending," White answered.

At the June 3 meeting, the board ultimately once again deferred taking action. Members asked Graeff to come back and present his findings in a way that's easier for them to understand and thoroughly explain how he determined his conclusions.

"You're hearing a directive from the board giving you clear direction for the transportation audit to be in, if it is at a high-level term or presentation, that it's user-friendly so that everyone can understand it from kindergarten to the grownups," board member Dawn Page said.

Graeff wrote in his audit that it's unclear to him why board members are unaware of information that's already been presented to them.

The Richmond Inspector General's Office said it's aware of the audit and is referring it to the "appropriate agencies."

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