Eleven transportation department employees – including drivers, a mechanic and a clerk-typist – carried signs begging for an end to what they have described as longtime bullying in the workplace and harassment by Lancaster School transportation director Robert M. Mowry at a rally Monday night outside the high school.
Their message – as they carried signs in the triangular-shaped lawn where Central Avenue and Forton Drive meet – was one meant for the school administration and board of education. Several passing cars honked their horns during the dinnertime rally.
The school district administration, later that evening after the board meeting ended, refused to comment on the allegations involving Mowry or status of the situation. The Buffalo News in April first published detailed allegations involving Mowry at Lancaster, as well as a lawsuit in federal court in 2001, filed by a Niagara Wheatfield bus driver whom he supervised in that district and who claimed Mowry sexually harassed her and other female employees.
Mowry, who is still on the job in Lancaster, has previously declined to comment and did not attend Monday’s board meeting.
“I hope they’ll do the right thing instead of covering it up, because we’re going out on these buses, and drive these children after Bob has us all upset,” said Gina Scaglione, one of the women who has filed a formal complaint against Mowry. “We want the school (district) to remove Bob so we are not in a bullied atmosphere, so we don’t have to come to work with stomachaches.”
Charles Moulin, a 29-year mechanic for the district, also carried a sign that read, “Stop the Harassment.”
“Right now, he’s (on) me. He keeps on you to the point you can’t even think straight,” Moulin said.
Mary F. Refermat, a clerk-typist in the department and one of the women with pending charges, held a sign: “Decency Over Dysfunction.” Two of her grown children stood beside her, supporting her.
“When people think of bullying, they think of little school kids, but it can happen in the workplace,” said daughter Monica Refermat. “My mom comes home stressed out and overwhelmed, and I don’t like to see my mom like that,”
During the board meeting, Mike Schlicht, upstate coordinator of New York Healthy Workplace Advocates, defended the bus drivers and asked the board why bus drivers would be subjected to an alleged abusive work environment and urged them to address the matter.
“You are already paying for the alleged actions of workplace bullies within your school district through work impairment, higher health care costs, workers’ compensation cases and turnover, in addition to the tarnished reputation of the Lancaster School District as a healthy and safe place to work,” Schlicht said. “I urge the board not to wait for an accident to occur resulting from the impairment of one of your bus drivers who is dwelling (on) and fearful of coming to work, going back to work after a morning or afternoon run, or dwelling on the next action their workplace bullies have in store for them.”
Scaglione asked the board whether any internal investigation is ongoing within the district to resolve issues in the transportation department. Superintendent Michael J. Vallely declined to comment, saying it would be improper for him to speak about any investigation or litigation in a public forum.
Board President Marie MacKay and Vallely later would not comment about the earlier rally held outside.
A candidates’ forum earlier Monday evening featured four candidates running for three board seats in the May 20 election. MacKay, incumbent Patrick Uhteg and newcomers Susan Malyszka and Michael Sage addressed a variety of topics, including state testing and how to handle the dilemma of children refusing to take the tests, Common Core learning standards and other issues.
The administration also highlighted its $97.43 million budget proposal for 2014-15 and a bus purchase proposition to replace eight buses for $948,809, both of which will be on the ballot. Voting will be held from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. May 20 in the High School Java Gym, 1 Forton Drive.