School Board approves plan to install GPS system on all school buses

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The Switzerland County School Board last Monday night approved a program that will see a specialized GPS system installed on all buses in the corporation – both corporation owned and contract routes.

Lisa Roy of Sprint was at the meeting to describe the GPS system to the school board, and go over all of the benefits that it should bring to the corporation.

The GPS base simply plugs into an existing port underneath the dashboard on newer buses, and for older buses that don’t have the port, an adapter will be installed. The device is approximately the size of a deck of cards.

“A couple of years ago, when I was principal at Switzerland County Elementary, we had that tornado threat right at the end of the day,” Superintendent Mike Jones said. “We had drivers out on the road with students, and in some cases the drivers stopped and took the kids off of the buses and into the basement of a home. I think a system like this will provide a great deal of safety for our children.”

Once installed the GPS system will not only monitor the location of each and every bus, but much, much more.

Because it is plugged into the dashboard, Lisa Roy said that the system will be able to read, monitor and report everything that the driver sees on the dash. It can provide, among other things:

– It will monitor the speed of the bus as it travels down the road. The device will record and send back to the central office information on how often the bus speeds, brakes too hard when going into curves, leaves the roadway, and other moving information.

It will also immediately record when a bus is involved in an accident. And will record if the device is unplugged.

– The system will provide diagnostic information on each bus. It will tell school officials when the oil is low; when the engine needs service; and, if a driver is out on a route and warning lights come on, will be able to tell the driver if it is okay to drive the bus back to the bus lot, or if another bus needs to be dispatched to off-load the students.

This can save the corporation money, because minor maintenance issues can be taken care of before they become major problems.

– Another way that the system will be able to save the corporation money is through its monitoring of when the bus is idling.

Lisa Roy told the school board that she knows of school corporations that have saved as much as 13-percent of their fuel costs by monitoring how long a driver sits and allows the bus to idle.

With the system, every time a bus stops and keeps running, it will be recorded.

– It will also allow the school corporation with a ‘bread crumb’ trail for each bus.

“We have parents who will call and say that ‘I live on a particular road, and the bus never stopped to pick up my kids this morning’,” Mike Jones said. “With this system, we will be able to look and see exactly when the bus stopped there, and how long the driver sat and waited on a student before they continued on their route. At any moment we will know exactly where every bus in our system is.”

Another benefit is that, by seeing the exact route that a bus is taking, the school corporation may be better able to adjust how the route is driven in order to cut down on mileage. Its information can also be used to see if routes can be altered or in some cases eliminated and combined into other routes.

Again, this will save the corporation money.

– Lisa Roy also said that the GPS system is customizable, so the corporation can look at all of the information that the GPS will provide, and then distill it down to what the board thinks is important and what’s less important.

The system will then take all of that information and give each driver a ‘score’. That score will combine all of the aspects, from how often the bus speeds to how often the brakes are applied too hard to how often the bus is idling too long; and other data.

The school board will be able to then set an acceptable score that all drivers need to reach or exceed. It is possible that drivers who continually fail to reach an acceptable level could lose their routes.

The system will be in use every time a bus is in use, so buses that are taken for extra curricular events, such as sporting events and field trips, will be monitored. The system will also be placed on the mini-buses that the corporation uses, as well as the traditional buses.

During comments, school board member Wayne Daugherty asked about the signal itself.

“You know we live in a very rural area, and most of the people who live here don’t have a Sprint phone because they can’t get service,” he told Lisa Roy. “Most people here have Verizon. My question is, does this do us any good if there’s no cell service? Even not talking about Sprint, there are areas of the county where you just can’t get any service.”

Lisa Roy said that the signal transmitted by the device needs even less service than a text message, so getting a transmission out and back to the central office shouldn’t be a problem. In addition to that, when the bus moves into an area where cellular service reception is high, then any stored data will be sent back. For example, all data will be transferred when the bus pulls back into the bus lot.

“We think it’s very valuable for a school to know in an instant where a bus is,” Lisa Roy said. “If you have an issue, very quickly you’ll be able to check on it and solve it.”

She said that many private mail delivery trucks use the system now to track drivers; so the system has been tested and current customers are very satisfied with the results.

Mike Jones said that the idea of installing GPS systems on the buses was considered a couple of years ago when the corporation installed the new video monitoring systems on all buses, but at that time the quote for the system was simply too high.

At Monday night’s meeting, Lisa Roy told the school board that she could provide the corporation with a 60-day trial of the system, and that if it didn’t meet the corporation’s expectations, there was a money back guarantee. She also said that if the board agreed to try the system by the end of this year, she could give a discount of $50 per unit.

There are 41 vehicles in the Switzerland County School Corporation fleet and the private, contract driving fleet that would have the GPS system installed. With the one time equipment discount, the initial fee to install the system, including the connectors for older buses, would be $3,242.20. The school board approved a request to ask the Switzerland County School Endowment Corporation to cover this fee.

Along with that one time fee, the corporation would pay a monthly service fee of $1,045.50. There is no contract, so the school corporation could, if it chose to do so, terminate the agreement at anytime.

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In other business discussed by the school board:

- Approved the retirement of longtime school and central office secretary Janet Daugherty, effective December 31st.

- The board approved a request be sent to the Endowment Corporation for new record boards for the track teams and swimming teams to be placed in the gym at a cost of $6,250.

– The board held a first reading on creating a designated Endowment Fund in the Community Foundation of Switzerland County.

– Approved a resolution for appropriation transfers and claim payment between this meeting and the end of the calendar year.

– Approved an extra curricular fundraiser request for the boys and girls golf teams.