Friday, July 01, 2011

Tuscon AZ Schools Approve $625K for Bus Cameras

TUSD students who ride school buses will now have an extra set of eyes watching them after the district's Governing Board approved the installation of video cameras in the vehicles.

The Tucson Unified School District expects the 300 cameras, which come with a price tag of more than $625,000, will reduce student disruptions, negative behavior and vandalism on buses. Tuesday's board vote was unanimous.

Nikki Frett has driven TUSD school buses for 10 years and has seen it all - students throwing things at cars, yelling obscenities, horseplay and full-fledged fistfights. She believes the bus cameras could help curb some of that behavior, but only if there are consequences for students.

"Knowing that they are being watched isn't enough if nothing comes of it," she said.

The cameras are part of the district's effort to improve transportation and services, said Candy Egbert, TUSD's interim chief operations officer.

There have been a few trial runs of video cameras on TUSD buses in the past, but they never remained a permanent fixture, Egbert said.

In 2008, a management audit recommended that TUSD reduce bus monitors by 10 percent and install cameras on buses without monitors. Such a move could have saved the district nearly $500,000 a year. While the district moved forward with cutting monitors, it did not install cameras.

The current effort isn't an attempt to reduce bus monitors, Egbert said.

"We will continue to need monitors to support student needs and to assist with wheelchairs, transfer transitions and other student needs," Egbert said. "Monitors are of tremendous importance."

Last school year TUSD spent about $2.7 million in wages and benefits for about 130 bus monitors.

The plan for video cameras is not only supported by the administration but also by most of the bus drivers, said Brenda Lambach, chair of the TUSD division of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Not only is it a way to monitor student behavior, but it also serves as protection for drivers, she said.

"When kids don't like a driver because they're too strict or they won't let them eat on the bus, all it takes is one to make an accusation and others will back them up," said Lambach, a former bus driver. "The cameras will show what really does go on."

Video-camera footage will not be monitored regularly and will be reviewed only if there is a concern by a driver, student or parent.

Egbert could not provide information on the number or types of incidents that occur on school buses, but she said the district spends a lot of time restoring seats that have been vandalized by students.

"We know that these things happen, and it's not in the best interest of the kids or the drivers," Egbert said. "It's important for us to do all we can to support drivers and our families so the ride is a positive one for everybody."

Contact reporter Alexis Huicochea at or 573-4175.

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