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Dist. 57 suspends transportation director
School board surprised by second report of driver drinking
By Sheila Ahern | Daily Herald Staff

Vince Ramirez

 

District 57 Web site

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Published: 3/16/2010 6:18 PM

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The transportation director for Mount Prospect Elementary District 57 has been put on administrative leave after the school board learned he received two reports in two days about a bus driver who was later arrested on drunken driving charges.

Vince Ramirez was suspended Tuesday and it's not clear when he will return, said Joe Leane, president of the District 57 school board.

"It won't be until our investigation is complete," he said. "I don't know how long that will be."

Leane did not know if Ramirez was suspended with or without pay. The decision to suspend Ramirez came from Superintendent Elaine Aumiller, he said. Aumiller did not return several phone calls on Tuesday.

The school board did not discuss the idea either in open or closed session at Monday's special meeting, Leane said.

In a closed session just before Monday's public meeting, the school board was told by Mount Prospect police that two different employees told Ramirez on consecutive days they smelled alcohol on driver Betty Burden.

That information surprised board members, who thought Ramirez had gotten only one report, on March 9, the day Betty Burden was arrested on charges of drunken driving.

However, board members learned that on March 8, a different employee told Ramirez that Burden smelled like alcohol, but Ramirez was "unable to confirm that concern," Leane said.

According to school officials, as soon as the second co-worker voiced concerns about Burden on the afternoon of March 9, Ramirez drove out and intercepted her bus at its first stop. He got on and talked to Burden, but couldn't conclude for sure she'd been drinking.

However, he followed her bus in his own car, and then called police.

Burden was arrested on charges of drunken driving, but by that time she had already dropped off about 50 students.

A breath test at the police station showed she had a blood-alcohol content of .226 percent, well over the legal limit of .008.

Under zero-tolerance laws, it is illegal for school bus drivers to have any alcohol in their blood.

"This has been a districtwide failure," Leane said Monday night. "Knowing what we know now, Betty Burden should never have been allowed to continue her route after our transportation coordinator boarded the bus."

The school board is expected to fire Burden at Thursday's school board meeting.

Ramirez was unable to be reached on Tuesday. He graduated from Elk Grove High School in 1992. He's married and lives in Des Plaines. He is a former bus driver; he drove for District 57 in 1995-98 before being named a transportation coordination assistant, according to the district's Web site.

School officials announced Monday they will conduct an investigation to study reporting concerns in a timely manner and outsourcing the district's busing.

District 57 also will launch a Web site for parents to report suspicious behavior of school employees - including bus drivers.