School hires bus firm with troubled past


ALPENA – The bus company that the Alpena-Montmorency-Alcona Educational Service District said it hired to better protect kids once employed a man who assaulted a student, The News has learned.

Earlier this year, AMA ESD fired Thunder Bay Transportation Authority as its bus provider after ESD officials said TBTA did not improve enough after an employee of one of its contractors was convicted of sexually assaulting students on the bus.

The ESD hired Lansing-based Dean Transportation to replace TBTA.

However, a former Dean employee is currently in prison after sexually assaulting a student in 2017, The News has learned.

Larry Beutler previously worked for Traverse City Area Public Schools but resigned in February 2017 after he was accused of kissing and having other inappropriate conduct with a 14-year-old cognatively imparied student, the Traverse City Record-Eagle reported.

Shortly after, Dean hired Beutler as a bus driver for the Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District, where in October 2017 a coworker accused Beutler of interacting inappropriately with a student on the bus while waiting for students to load at a school.

Dean fired Beutler that month and officials said they were not aware of Beutler’s past with TCAPS until after the alleged incidents with the TBAISD bus rider were investigated.

According to a 2017 news release from Dean that was provided to The News on Friday, Beutler passed mandatory FBI fingerprint, Sex Offender Registry, and Michigan State Police background checks. However, TCAPS reported to Dean during the state-required background check that Beutler resigned because of unprofessional conduct and that TCAPS would not rehire him.

A Dean human resources assistant who received the TCAPS letter did not flag it or follow up with the Dean HR director for further review, the news release says.

After learning about the oversight of the missed reference check, Dean notified TBAISD and completed an audit of its transportation staff assigned to that school district. Dean fired the HR assistant for failing to bring the reference letter to the attention of the HR director.

AMA ESD Superintendent Scott Reynolds said Friday that Patrick Dean, vice president of business development of Dean Transportation, contacted him directly in October 2017 and was available to discuss the incident directly.

That was the same month the AMA ESD started to pursue a new transportation provider because the TBTA did not make necessary changes after a bus aide, Andrew Bartz, was accused of sexual assault in 2015. Bartz is currently in prison and families of his victims have sued TBTA over the incident.

TBTA officials could not be reached for comment on Friday.

Reynolds said Dean Transportation was transparent and fully informed the AMA ESD about the incident.

“There was never any question for us that Dean Transportation acknowledged individuals within their organization had made mistakes,” Reynolds said. “However, they also demonstrated a prompt response that was professional, transparent, and appropriate – focused first and foremost on the children they serve.”

Patrick Dean said in an email to The News that he shared a copy of his company’s statement regarding Beutler with Reynolds.

“Dean believes that dealing with the most challenging situations in a forthright manner is the only way to demonstrate a culture in which our kids will always come first,” Dean said.

In the press release, Dean Transportation stated that the company has implemented additional procedures to increase student safety, including increasing the number of random reviews of bus video. The company also worked to install a third bus camera on all TBAISD buses at Dean Transportation’s costs.

Dean said all AMA ESD buses have four-camera video recording systems. He said random video reviews are part of the service Dean Transportation will provide to AMA ESD for the purposes of training, accountability, safety, and security of all passengers.

Reynolds said he is confident in what Dean Transportation can provide for the AMA ESD and its students going forward.

“We have high expectations for Dean Transportation to safely transport our students and are confident that the transparent leadership demonstrated in this case is consistent with their core values,” Reynolds said. “We look forward for Dean Transportation to provide the best service for the kids.”