MONROE - When yellow school buses begin rolling down the road in September, Monroe Public Schools will have an extra tool in tracking activity on the vehicles and monitoring safety.
State-of-the art digital video cameras will be mounted inside the district's fleet of 63 buses when classes begin in a few weeks. The devices are replacing VCR-type cameras that were on some of the vehicles.
"These are going to be a great asset for our buses and will be invaluable tools for our district," said Jerry Oley, acting director of transportation.
School officials signed up with Midwest Transit Equipment in April to buy camera systems for 55 buses, and eight more units were recently purchased, allowing the district to fully outfit its working fleet for $137,970.
Each bus is equipped with two cameras, one mounted in the rear of the bus and one at the front to capture a panoramic view of the driver, passengers, and door.
Mr. Oley said the district began installing the cameras in early June and they were used in test runs on buses transporting students for Outward Bound, summer classes, and specialneeds programs.
So far, the digital cameras have exceeded the district's expectations in that the quality of the video and audio are exceptional.
"The pictures and audio are crystal clear and are easily transferable to a computer for viewing and evaluating," Mr. Oley said.
About 75 percent of the district's 6,600 students commute to school on buses, with drivers covering some 925,000 miles throughout the school year.
Mr. Oley said that less than 10 percent of the fleet was equipped with the VCR camera system, which will continue to be used on the district's substitute buses.
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In addition to capturing video from the back and front, the dig-ital system pinpoints the speed of the buses and activation of yellow warning lights, brake lights, and stop sign arms at any time during a bus route.
"This is a huge investment and major commitment by the board of education to provide safety for our students and drivers," Mr. Oley said. "I think it is one of the best investments the school district can make to protect its students and its drivers."
The digital cameras were proposed, in part, as a way to review activity on buses for vandalism and disciplinary issues.
The school district earlier this year had a situation in which a parent accused a driver of intentionally slamming on the brakes, resulting in an injury to a student, according to school documents.
If the new system had been available, it would have taken just a few minutes to remove the hard-drive from the bus and review the digital recording, avoiding hours of interviews and investigation.
The cameras are equipped with technology that could allow the district in the future to use global positioning systems to track buses as they are moving and to pinpoint the location at any time.
GPS mapping would have been instrumental in April when a Monroe Public Schools bus went off its route after the driver became ill.
The bus, which was carrying about 30 elementary students, was stopped on Dixie Highway by two Monroe County Road Commission employees after they crawled through a window and back door.