Monday, October 04, 2010

Worth 1,000 words: School districts split on school-bus cameras

The East Moline School District is considering joining six other Rock Island County school districts that equip their school buses with video cameras. Districts that have bus cameras said they serve as a deterrent and provide a record to resolve allegations.

East Moline acting superintendent Kristin Humphries plans to recommend the school board purchase cameras for a third of the district's 33 buses after he concludes research on options and possible insurance breaks. A digital system costing $25,000, or about $2,275 for each of 11 buses, is one possibility. All buses might be equipped later.

Mr. Humphries' goal is to replace the now defunct VHS tape systems with a three-camera digital system that will provide clear audio and color visual recordings that will be stored on a secure hard drive accessible only by administrators. Mr. Humphries said the district buses have been without cameras since the VHS units "started dying a slow death" two to three years ago.

The new system would place a camera near the driver at the front of the bus, one in the middle and another at the rear. The cameras being considered would not record outside of the bus, but Mr.Humphries said he has been told bus drivers are very interested in having a camera that could record vehicles that do not heed the bus' stop arm.

"For everybody's benefit we would like to get some cameras on our buses," Mr. Humphries said. "It comes down to a funding issue."

Administrators from the Silvis, Carbon Cliff-Barstow, Riverdale, Rockridge, Sherrard and Rock Island school districts all shared similar reasons for valuing school buses equipped with cameras.

Silvis superintendent Ray Bergles said he considers the extra $350 tacked on to the cost of each bus leased by the district for cameras is like insurance, something worth paying a little more for for peace of mind later. The district has eight or nine buses equipped with digital cameras and a couple outfitted with older and lower quality VHS systems. Because the buses are leased, the district gets the newest camera systems available when the three-year contracts are renewed.

"It helps with student discipline. It also helps with making sure that bus drivers are following procedures," Mr. Bergles said. "If somebody says a bus driver did this or didn't do that, you can go to the video. A picture is worth a thousand words."

Mr. Bergles said the cameras, which record at the front of the bus, are typically reviewed when there's a problem and occasionally spot checked. He said they've come in handy for both student and staff issues, particularly during one incident when a driver was accused of acting and speaking inappropriately toward a student.

"It was great because we were able to see everything and hear everything,"Mr. Bergles said. "It totally exonerated the bus driver."

Rockridge transportation director and junior high principal Mike Ruff said 12 of the district's 32 buses have camera systems, which cost between $900 and $1,300 per bus Those that don't have cameras have hardware installed so one could be placed any time it is needed.

"We rotate them around routinely, especially if there is a situation we are trying to monitor,"Mr. Ruff said.

Like Rockridge, Illinois Central School Bus, which serves the Rock Island-Milan School District, rotates its two to three buses with cameras as needed to respond to issues that may need monitoring or routes that may be problematic, according to ICSB assistant manager Jackie Maynard.

"It's not a tool that Ilike to rely on for discipline,"she said. "It is a tool to help target or know what's going on. If you're having trouble, it helps you identify who and what."

Administrators of the Hampton and Moline school districts said they do not have bus cameras now and are not interested in adding them. Hampton superintendent Tom Berg said the district's bus routes are short and he doesn't think the expense is warranted to outfit the two buses operated by Pinks' Bus Service.

"We don't have the type of trouble on our buses that would need cameras," he said.

United Township superintendent Jay Morrow said the cost of equipment and software has prevented the district from adding cameras, but the district may consider purchasing them in the future.

What Rock Island County school districts have school bus cameras?

Silvis, which also serves Carbon Cliff
Rock Island-Milan

No Cameras
East Moline
United Township