School buses to be fitted with video cameras Cellular phones also proposed for emergencies

October 09, 1997|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

Carroll school bus drivers soon will be getting the high-tech equivalent of eyes in the backs of their heads.

This fall, Carroll County school system will install a video camera box on each of the 300 buses that transport students.

And within a few months, each bus could also have a cellular phone, to be used only for emergencies or when a bus is running late, but not when the bus is in motion.

The cell phone proposal is contingent on approval by the school board and County Commissioners next month. The video equipment has already been purchased.

To save money, the schools bought only 28 video cameras, which will be rotated among the buses randomly, or when a driver requests it to film misbehaving students, said Vernon Smith, director of school support services.

"All the boxes look the same, and all the boxes look like they're in operation," Smith said. "If a driver has a problem with a group of students, she can request that a camera be placed in the box."

School officials hope the possibility of a working camera will deter bad behavior, Smith said. The boxes will be in a front corner of the bus, recording the driver and students.

The total cost for the boxes and cameras was $30,600. The schools are waiting to receive bids for installing the equipment.

In 1995, an independent auditing company recommended that Carroll schools equip all buses with either a cell phone or a two-way radio. The company was hired by the school board and commissioners to audit the performance and efficiency of the transportation and other departments.

Two-way radios are on the small fleet of buses that the school system owns and which are used mainly for special education students, Smith said. In addition, the school system provided about a dozen cell phones to drivers of buses whose passengers included one or more medically fragile students in special or regular education, he said.

Smith said that after a meeting of bus contractors and school transportation staff, the consensus was to put cell phones on all buses rather than start a widespread two-way radio system. The school system would essentially reimburse the contractors for providing cell phones on the buses.

"This approach seemed better, with the availability of cellular phone service," Smith said.

Unlike a radio, the phones can be taken with the driver and students if they have to evacuate the bus, or can be used if the bus battery is dead.

The cost of the phones is estimated at about $55,000. Smith said he will ask the school board to use state money for transportation that was unspent in the past budget year.

If the school board approves the purchase, it would go the County Commissioners for final approval. Contractors would be paid for 12 months of service, at an estimated $14 per month per bus. The school system would not pay for air time or calls, and the phone bills would go to the contractors.

Smith said the contractors have found a company that would supply the telephones free.

Among the rules drivers will have to observe:

No personal use of phones.

In case of a bus breakdown, accident or medical emergency, a call must go out immediately.

In a medical emergency, a driver should call 911 first.

Drivers may not use the phones while the bus is moving.

Pub Date: 10/09/97

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