THE HUB - Feature Article

  • Bus Camera Bill a Significant Step for Student Safety

    Posted by George Arlotto on 1/22/2020

    Every day across our county, more than 60,000 students board school buses to be transported to and from their schools. Thousands more utilize buses to get to our Centers of Applied Technology or go on field trips or to athletic events.

    Over the course of the school year, approximately 700 buses will travel nearly 10 million miles to ferry Anne Arundel County Public Schools students to one destination or another. The vehicles are a safe and efficient way to transport about three-quarters of our student population, but just outside them lurks a very real danger.

    Motorists – whether impatient, distracted, unaware, or uncaring – are roaring past stopped school buses, an action that is illegal in every state in the nation, at an alarming rate. A one-day survey conducted by school bus drivers for the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services last May reported that 95,319 vehicles passed buses illegally. In a 180-day school year, that sampling equates to more than 17 million vehicles operating in a way that could maim or kill children.

    The bigger issue? The problem is getting worse.

    The 2019 figure represents a 28% increase over the 2016 results. It’s even more dire in Maryland, where the number of illegal actions observed rose from 4,334 in 2016 to 6,388 in 2019 – a whopping 47% surge, according to the surveys.
    Locally, we need look no further back than October, when a Severna Park High School student was struck and injured as she got off her school bus after school.

    Legislation now before the County Council represents an opportunity to take a significant step forward to enhance the safety of our students, our bus drivers, and every motorist on roads throughout the county. Bill 1-20, which has the support of County Executive Steuart Pittman and Police Chief Timothy Altomare, authorizes the use of monitoring cameras on school buses. It is an initiative our team has discussed with county officials for some time and one which members of our Board of Education firmly support.

    The bill’s passage would allow our school system to enter into a contract with a vendor to install the cameras and authorize police to view recorded footage and issue citations to those who violate the law and endanger the lives of students and others with their irresponsible actions.

    State law allows for local governments to establish such procedures, but each jurisdiction must pass its own legislation. Similar arrangements exist in other school systems around the nation and in Maryland. Montgomery County, for example, has cameras on its buses and both Howard and Queen Anne’s counties recently passed legislation to do the same.

    Some vendors install cameras at no cost to the school system in exchange for a percentage of revenue from fines levied against violators. Should this legislation pass and we procure such a contract, the initiative would come at virtually no cost to our school system or the County.

    The possibility of interior bus camera installations through these contracts also exists. Because video would be transmitted and stored remotely instead of on hard drives located on buses, our school system and police would be able to more reliably and readily view footage not just of those vehicles that violate the law, but of incidents that may occur on our school buses. And because some systems feature GPS capabilities, the possibility also exists that we could dovetail the installation with a mobile app to allow parents and guardians to track the location and arrival times of their child’s assigned bus.

    The first step, however, is the passage of Bill 1-20. It is common-sense legislation which creates a safer environment for our students at what may well be little to no cost to our school system or the County.

    Dr. George Arlotto is Superintendent of Anne Arundel County Public Schools. He can be reached at superintendent@aacps.org.

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  • Transportation Consultant Report Recommends Additional Staffing, Improved Technology Use and Processes

    Posted by Melvin Edwards on 1/9/2020

    The consultant contracted by the Board of Education to examine Anne Arundel County Public Schools’ Transportation Division has recommended additional staffing and improvements to the way in which both technology is used and business processes are implemented.

    The recommendations in the 179-page report done by Prismatic Services, Inc., provided to the Board and the public today, include the hiring of three staff dedicated to bus routing and a fourth to function as the administrator of the geographic information system (GIS) used to route buses. Two other personnel enhancements are also proposed in the recommendations. Additionally, various technology-based and bus operations infrastructure improvements were recommended.

    In his recommended Fiscal Year 2021 Operating Budget delivered to the Board last month, Superintendent George Arlotto proposed adding seven positions, including routing specialists and positions to enhance communications with drivers, schools, and families. Dr. Arlotto is also recommending that funding be provided to support the various technology enhancements recommended within the report.

    In its report, Prismatic commended AACPS for its driver training program, transparency of policies regarding ridership and non-transport zones, vehicle maintenance management program, management of regular transportation of students to athletic contests and the Arlington Echo Outdoor Education Center, and new contractor pay system.

    The report discusses school start and dismissal times but makes no formal recommendation on the issue. Instead, it recognizes that this is a decision appropriately left to the Board of Education.

    Among Prismatic’s other recommendations:

    • The adoption of two online systems, one to receive and track community input and a second to allow for more efficient communication within the division about operational issues as they occur. Combined the systems would cost between $36,800 and $159,200, according to the report.
    • The creation of an automated workflow system for “Transportation Action Requests.”
    • Offering all contractors an incentive to adopt GPS systems prior to the end of their established contracts.
    • Developing improved written and communicated regulations and/or guidelines for bus routing procedures.

    The complete report can be found online here.

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