City schools let go of key bus consultant

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Baltimore school officials have decided not to renew a contract with a consultant and former management employee who has played a key role in overseeing bus operations.

City school district spokeswoman Edie House confirmed yesterday that Otis Jackson, formerly the second-in-command in the district's transportation division, would not be retained.

Jackson, who formally retired this year but then returned as a consultant, had been working under a 90-day contract that had been extended into early July, according to House.

Reached Monday on his district-assigned cell phone, Jackson hung up on a reporter asking him about his status.

The school system's decision on Jackson's contract comes amid a shake-up in the transportation unit. Responding to evidence that a school bus contractor with a questionable safety record was given favored treatment, interim Chief Executive Officer Bonnie Copeland assigned a senior administrator, Oscar Jobe, last week to oversee day-to-day operations of the transportation unit.

Copeland also ordered that new bids be solicited for school bus contracts for the coming year and that the selection process be transferred to the agency's central purchasing division.

House said Jackson, whose 90-day contract originally expired June 30, had been needed to help with unanticipated summer school transportation arrangements. "Due to staffing issues, we needed him to stay on," House said.

Jackson reported to the head of the transportation unit, Valencia D. Baker.

According to information provided by the school district under a public records request, Jackson has been working about five hours a day at $25 an hour.

House said Jackson will return by the end of the week his cell phone and a late-model sport utility vehicle assigned to him for his official duties.

The reshuffling announced Friday occurred after an internal review prompted by an article in The Sun that detailed how actions by city school officials more than doubled the business of bus companies owned by Biff Allender.

A bus operated by one of his firms, the Allender Group Inc., was involved in an accident early last year that injured seven students and two adults.

The bus was being operated illegally because it had failed a state inspection earlier that day.

Though Allender suffered a temporary setback after the accident, his city school district business now totals about $2.6 million annually.

School officials approved last year his takeover of the bus routes of one contractor and his purchase of another.

Those actions prompted complaints of favoritism from competitors.

Allender has attributed the complaints to jealousy and, through a spokesman, said he welcomed the changes announced last week by Copeland.

The actions of the transportation unit officials have also sparked an investigation by State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli.

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