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Bus drivers divided over allegations

Supervisor accused of favoritism

By Scott Bellile

Bus drivers urged the New London School Board not to discipline one of their supervisors whom several employees accused of misconduct.

Nine workers spoke in support of Laurie Fischer, an office assistant for the School District of New London Transportation Department, during a public forum at the June 11 school board meeting.

Fischer is an office manager employed by Kobussen Buses Ltd., an outside firm based in Kaukauna. Kobussen contracts with the School District of New London and 27 other Wisconsin school district to oversee student transportation services and bus drivers.

Fischer is separately employed by the School District of New London as a part-time bus driver for a daily route, Superintendent Dennis Krueger told the Press Star Tuesday, June 19.

The New London School Board has kept Fischer in place as a bus driver, Krueger said, adding the district has no complaints about her driving.

Kobussen handles personnel matters for its office staff, not the school board, Krueger said, but Kobussen has retained Fischer. Krueger declined to say whether Kobussen kept her assigned to the office assistant role in New London.

At an earlier public forum on May 14, three bus drivers, Christine Dey, Teresa Rapp and Thea Rhode, accused Fischer of expressing favoritism toward certain drivers and sharing confidential information about their health or disciplinary matters to other workers at the bus garage.

Fischer has denied the allegations.

Dey told the board she injured herself on the job May 7 and took a week off to recover. When she returned, she said everybody at the bus garage knew the specifics of her injury despite no drivers being at the garage when she came in after the injury to fill out a report. She accused Fischer of telling the workers.

Rapp said her income was $3,100 lower this past year and alleged Fischer offers extra school field trip routes to employees she likes more.

Rapp also accused Fischer of telling employees about an interaction with police that Rapp had at the bus garage early in the morning when she would have been the only staff member there.

“I don’t want to work [in] an environment like this,” Rapp said. “And if we want other drivers to stay to New London, we need to change this because you’re not going to keep drivers this way.”

Rhoda said a driver knew she was away from work for a week due to a disciplinary matter when he should have only known she was off. She alleged Fischer told him what happened.

On June 11, Fischer addressed Dey’s and Rapp’s complaints before the school board.

She denied sharing Dey’s medical information with others and said there were other drivers in the meeting room when Dey came to the garage to fill out her injury report.

As for Rapp’s interaction with police, Fischer said officers arrived at 7:50 a.m. when other drivers were returning from their routes, so they witnessed it. She denied talking to drivers about it.

Fischer also addressed the accusations of favoritism.

“I try to keep route drivers on their routes,” Fischer said. “It seems like whenever I have a sub on that route, I have an issue, so it’s a lot easier to keep the route drivers on. I do go down the list of drivers, and many say no, they can’t take it, so I move on to the next one. There are also drivers that coaches, principals and some teachers request not to have … but then there are some teachers that will request a certain driver and I do try to give them that driver.”

Fischer said the driver who has earned the most money on field trip routes did so because she has fewer route assignments throughout the school day, has never said no to a field trip, and is always the first to step in when another driver cancels.

“My goal tonight is to set these concerns straight, and if I am not able to continue to work in the office, after 34 years of dedicated driving for the New London School District, I would like to be able to continue to drive bus,” Fischer said.

Workers who spoke to the school board in support of Fischer and her character were Dorla Johnson, Cathy Kessler, Lois Cunningham, Jerry Jennerjohn, Cindy Grunwald, Joanne Gorges, John Popke and Mike and Mary Frisch.

They were among 28 people who signed a letter to the board stating they see no evidence of confidentiality breaches, favoritism or unfairness.

“I am sickened by what has transpired in the past few weeks,” Popke said. “The whole situation is unfair and to all that is involved, and I’d like some answers to that.”

Drivers asked the school board to keep Fischer as a driver if she’s not retained in the office.

“That would be a huge asset for that bus garage and for the school system because bus drivers, they’re not just falling out of the sky. I mean, it’s hard to get bus drivers,” Mike Frisch said.

“She knows every house in the school district, telling people how to get to them,” Kessler added.

School board members did not comment on the allegations during either public forum. Under state law, they cannot participate in forum discussions.

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