In its presentments announced Thursday afternoon, the grand jury itemized 16 "serious issues/bad management practices" including poor record keeping; lack of work instructions for mechanics; lack of a defect analysis being performed, which could help identify preventative maintenance opportunities; unsafe lifts in used in the mechanics shops; and school-bus fire extinguishers that did not have pins or were low on chemicals.
"It must be noted that the drivers and mechanics work in an environment of intimidation and 'virtual fear' of losing their jobs - it is palpable and we heard and saw it time and time again," jurors wrote. "It is high time that the School Board and all levels of management below them hear and understand this. To allow this atmosphere to continue unabated is the grossest form of mismanagement."
The district's transportation director, Rick Grisham, was in Superior Court Judge Robert Flournoy's courtroom for the 4 p.m. presentments, as were two employees of the Brock Clay law firm.
Afterward, Grisham said he needed time to digest the entire report.
"Some things we've already addressed in some form or fashion," he said. "It was very thorough, and I plan to address every area they recommend."
There are about 1,128 buses in the school district's fleet, and 56 mechanics, the jurors noted. Inspections are performed on each bus approximately every 20 days. The state inspects each bus annually, and in May 2009, found Cobb had 115 buses with serious defects, according to the presentments.
Grisham has led the department for about two years. Previously, he was an assistant administrator at Lassiter High School, and before that, taught physical education at Frey Elementary. Grisham said he was "an award-winning transportation director for five years" for the school district in Broken Arrow, Okla.
The grand jurors also noted in the presentments that they requested maintenance records for two specific buses, but had a hard time getting the records.
"It took three requests to get these documents, including one under subpoena. ... When the Grand Jury requests records especially for controversial bus issues, and it takes several attempts to retrieve these records, it only fuels the speculation of possible cover up or at the very least, supports the conclusion of bad management," jurors wrote.
"An allegation we continually heard is the mechanics have been told 'verbally' to decrease the monthly bus inspection time from 30 minutes to 15 minutes," jurors wrote, though they could find no hard evidence of such a mandate being issued by either Warner or Grisham.
"If in fact the 15 minutes time is true, it would definitely explain why there are so many problems called in from buses on the Daily Breakdown Sheets," the jurors wrote.
The complaints of the bus drivers and mechanics were first brought to light by Journal columnist Laura Armstrong, and the jurors were critical of the way Grisham responded to one of her columns that was published in December.
"It appears that Mr. Grisham has a 'hands off' method of management which fuels the unrest among his employees," the jurors wrote. "Mr. Grisham's 'hands off' attitude equates to 'does not take responsibility for.'"
Grand juror Jackie Inclan, a retired auditor who spearheaded the subcommittee's investigation, said later that "the mechanics and drivers have been crying for someone to listen and do something" about the problems in the department, and "somebody needs to listen to it on the school board."
"The way Mr. Warner manages is by intimidation and fear. You ask staff a question and they're looking over their shoulder to see who's there. That is totally unacceptable," she said. "Mr. Warner opened mouth and inserted foot sometimes. I think he's a bad manager. They don't like him. They don't trust him."
Dorothy Bell, another grand juror, said the changes the grand jury recommended should have been implemented "long ago."
"There have been some issues with safety, here and there, that could possibly be attributed to mechanics being rushed through their inspections. However, we don't want parents to be concerned that their children aren't safe on the buses. It is a management problem that stems from lack of management, management by intimidation, and poor direction from upper management. But if something's not done now to stop the process and to let the mechanics do the job they need to do, then potentially there could be some danger to the children," Bell said.
To correct the problems, the grand jurors recommended several actions, including reviews by each subsequent grand jury, to look into:
* Cobb County School Board (CCSB) lack of management intervention efforts and lack of apparent interest into all the well documented controversies concerning the Cobb County Transportation management practice;
* That the CCSB hire an outside source to independently audit/investigate the Cobb County Transportation offices, both Fleet Maintenance and Bus Driver sides of this organization; and
* An audit of Human Resources practice of hiring and firing both Fleet Maintenance Mechanics and Bus Drivers to assure fair and equal treatment.
Jurors also advised that the telephone number and e-mail address of the Georgia Department of Public Safety be conspicuously posted so all mechanics and bus drivers can see and use it if necessary.
On Wednesday morning, Journal staff sat down with school board chairwoman Lynnda Crowder-Eagle to talk about the district, and asked her about the transportation department, among other things.
"I think our transportation department is doing an outstanding job," Crowder-Eagle said. "We've received a lot of safety awards. We are running a lot of buses every day and we get kids to school and back safely."
Asked if there is more discontent in the transportation department than elsewhere in the district, she said, "I don't think so."
"I'm very appreciative to our drivers - they do a big responsibility. I certainly could not drive one of those big buses, no way. I think they do a great job," she said. "I also believe that Mr. Grisham is doing a very good job. I have not found him inaccessible at all."