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Technology coming to county school buses

Safety in transporting Washington County students will see a marked improvement with the addition of global positioning units on the school buses and cellular telephones for the drivers.
“We have $89,700 left over from the bond issuance for school bus purchases, and I would like you to consider the GPS devices discussed before,” Director of Schools Ron Dykes proposed to members of the Safety Committee during their July 30 meeting.
Board of Education members considered the program offered by Tyler Technologies earlier this year, but a source of funding was not identified. Dykes said the GPS units are an updated version of the system discussed in January.
A unanimous recommendation from the Safety Committee was approved by the full board during their August meeting a couple of days later.
Start-up costs of approximately $58,000 will install Versatrans GPS units on the 123 buses, equip the system with the software and training, and cover the first year of maintenance. Annual recurring maintenance costs will be almost $33,000.
The school system has used the Versatrans routing system for years and expects a seamless integration of additional software programs by staying with the same vendor.
The Versatrans GPS provides information on buses and driver behavior including arrival time, departure time, adherence to routes, speed and idle time.
The unit on each bus is held in a harness that snaps into place under the steering wheel. Having the school mechanics install them will save on cost and provide training on transfer when new buses are purchased.
Because the GPS program is web-based, administrators and parents have access at all times. Parents can be alerted when their child’s bus is within 10 minutes of arrival.
Board member Todd Ganger asked if information from the GPS program is admissible in court in the case of a dispute involving an accident. Director of Technology Curtis Fullbright said he knew of court cases that permitted the information.
Dykes said Verizon will provide approximately 10 cellular telephones for use by bus drivers through a government intervention program for which the school system is eligible.
“The phones will be programmed to limit the numbers called,” Dykes said, listing the Central Office, 911, and the maintenance garage as examples of the few numbers that will be available for use in emergencies only.
“We have attempted to find a financially feasible way to provide cell phones to the bus drivers for the last eight years, and this is a no-brainer,” Dykes said. The system will pay no cost for the phones and only a nominal service rate if they have to be used, he added.