Steve Jones

FRAUD? — While Steve Jones and Northwestern School Corp.’s civil suit awaits resolution, Jones faces fraud-related criminal charges.

Northwestern School Board Member Steven Jones moved to dismiss his own civil suit against the school corporation, but the school isn’t letting him off the hook.

On March 9, Jones filed a motion to dismiss the suit he and his wife filed against the school he represents as a board member. While Jones sought to dismiss his suit against the school, in which he and his wife sought damages after the corporation cut their contracted bus routes after an impasse in negotiations, Northwestern School Corporation (NSC) asked a judge to set aside Jones’ motion to dismiss in order to bring proper closure to the case and pursue legal fees from the school board member.

The same day Jones filed his motion to dismiss, Howard Superior II Judge Brant Parry granted the motion. However, on March 23, NSC fought back against the dismissal. According to a motion filed by the school corporation, the school argued Jones didn’t properly communicate his desire to have the case dismissed, and the school still had a motion for summary judgment pending. The school argued that if the motion for summary judgment wasn’t ruled upon, then NSC could face further lawsuits in the future from Jones and miss out on the “reimbursement of their court costs and legal expenses.”

“Northwestern School Corporation filed a motion to set aside the dismissal of the civil case,” said Johnathan Underwood, NSC board president. “This was done since the original dismissal was without prejudice, meaning it can be reopened in the future by the Joneses. This litigation has been costly for Northwestern. The schools is seeking a dismissal that does not prejudice or unfairly inconvenience the school further or cost the school additional legal expenses.”

As of press time, a ruling hadn’t been issued on the school corporation’s filing.

Jones and his wife, Kristy, moved to sue NSC last April, seeking damages after changes to the school’s bus routes. Both Jones and his wife had long-served as contracted bus drivers for the corporation, even as Jones maintained a position on the school board.

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During the most recent bidding of contracted bus routes, NSC, Jones, and Kristy reached an impasse in negotiations as the school corporation sought to cut costs. According to school documents, Jones and his wife ran the costliest contracted bus routes for the school. While Kristy had the highest per-mile bid in the last round of bidding and Jones the second highest, Jones was paid the most of all of NSC’s contracted bus drivers during the 2018-2019 school year. He brought home $87,135, while the average was $67,402. Contracted bus drivers are responsible for maintaining their own buses, while the school utilizes in-house bus drivers as well.

The school ended up rejecting the couple’s bids and negotiations began. Eventually, the school put together a cost analysis, which found the school corporation could save between $80,000 and $100,000 in annualized costs if Jones and his wife’s routes were absorbed by NSC and piecemealed out to other drivers. The school moved forward with the plan, utilizing the cost-savings for teacher raises.

In their eventual civil suit, the bus drivers argued that follow-up bids, of a lower amount, weren’t acted upon by the school and that NSC treated the couple differently than the other contracted drivers as no cost analysis had been performed on other routes. The school denied having accepted a lower bid offer from Jones and his wife.

Similarly, Jones ran into trouble with the school recently, with criminal charges filed against him. In February, Jones was hit with a level 6 felony charge of delivery of a false sales document and a class A misdemeanor charge of possession of a fraudulent sales document. These charges stemmed from the belief that Jones falsely submitted receipts to NSC for reimbursement related to work performed on a school bus. This case still is pending.

Jones’ attorney did not respond to a request for comment.