July 25, 2021

More security cameras to be installed in Newton bus barn after theft allegations

Although surveillance system wasn’t budgeted, administrators say it’s ‘needed’

Prior incidents in the bus barn at Newton Community School District has forced administrators to install additional security cameras on the premises.

School board members on Monday, March 22 unanimously approved the $38,450 request from administrators, to be paid for using Secure an Advanced Vision for Education (SAVE) funds. The security cameras will be installed by Walsh Door & Security.

NCSD Director of Business Services Tim Bloom said the purchase was not budgeted but is “definitely needed.”

At the March 8 school board meeting, a hearing regarding the superintendent’s recommendation to terminate a classified employee was held in open session. The district’s new transportation supervisor, David Kretz, had received complaints from staff accusing a bus mechanic of stealing equipment, among other offenses.

Staff told Kretz the garage was a mess and buses were not getting fixed correctly, either. They also alleged the accused changed the oil, repaired and cleaned personal vehicles during work hours; refused to do work in a timely manner; and had misrepresented hours worked on timesheets.

Superintendent Tom Messinger and NCSD Director of Human Resources Laura Selover were informed by Kretz of transportation staff’s feedback and conducted an investigation. The accused, who identified himself as Robert Ham Jr. in the open meeting, was placed on administrative leave in the meantime.

According to the Newton school district’s employee handbook, falsifying timesheets, working on personal jobs, failure to perform routine maintenance and theft or unauthorized use of property or equipment belonging to the school district would be classified as work rules misconduct.

The district’s investigation found a welder tank and accessories — which had been purchased by the Newton schools — had been taken by Ham and not been seen since. Selover alleged Ham used district resources and facilities for personal benefit multiple times.

Messinger said Ham had also admitted to having a transmission jack from the school district at his shop and made no arrangements at the time of the March 8 meeting to return the piece of equipment. Attorney Phil Myers, representing Ham, said Kretz’s claims were hearsay and the district had no evidence.

Myers also claimed a defamation lawsuit would be filed against the school district and an estimated $30,000 replevin action for tools. Ham later provided testimony claiming the accusations were a direct attack against him by one individual, and that he “borrowed” tools rather than stolen them.

Other employees in the bus barn, Ham alleged, had done so, too. He also accused former and current employees — calling them by name — of wrongdoing, but the mediator of the hearing interrupted further testimony and deemed it irrelevant. Myers said the termination was a “complete fiction.”

The school board unanimously noted in favor of Messinger’s recommendation.

Surveillance of school districts’ transportation facilities has become more and more common place than it was a number of years ago, Messinger told Newton News. Several of the Newton district’s properties are installed with security cameras. Messinger said Newton wants a good level of security for protection.

“We do have a lot of tools on site there and different parts … We have a lot of vehicles on the premises there that costs taxpayers a tremendous amount of money. We’ve got well over 20 buses and other vehicles, too,” Messinger said, suggesting cameras will be installed inside and outside the bus barn.

Contact Christopher Braunschweig at 641-792-3121 ext. 6560 or cbraunschweig@newtondailynews.com

Christopher Braunschweig

Reporter with a strong penchant for community journalism.