School bus cameras and a demonstration of how they work were shown to members of the school board's transportation committee Tuesday.
"That's what you spent your money on," said transportation supervisor Michael Frey, showing committee members a camera about the size of a paperback book, and inviting them to gather around his laptop to view images from a bus camera.
Frey explained employees at the bus garage installed front and rear cameras on four buses so far. Installation takes three or four hours, and by doing it in-house, they are saving a $500 per bus installation charge.
Frey said these are state-of-the-art cameras that record to a card, which holds about 40 hours of pictures. The camera turns on when the bus starts, and stays on for five minutes after the ignition is switched off. The cameras are also infrared, so even when the interior of the bus is dark, pictures of bus-riders are still being taken.
Still pictures from bus video can be e-mailed to principals' computers or to director Roy Dukes, and Frey said technology supervisor Susanne Ingram was working on a way to e-mail moving pictures as well.
Thirty-four buses are still waiting for camera installation, and "hopefully we will be done by summer," Frey said.
Stickers stating "You May Be Recorded" are being placed on the buses, and, at Barbara Kennedy's urging, a disclaimer about being photographed on school buses will be included for signature in next year's student packet.
Transportation committee discussion moved on to "snow routes" for school buses.
"We worked on them eight years ago," Dukes explained. "We only used them once or twice."
He proposed to have bus drivers look at conditions on their routes, and then a list of snow routes could be brought to the Board.
Dukes noted that sometimes all the main roads are clear, while some of the back roads are still unsafe.
"We ought to give kids the opportunity to get to school if at all possible," Kennedy said, reminding committee members of the number students who are getting free and reduced meals, and miss this chance of hot, nourishing food when there's no school.
"I think you should specify roads that are excused, whether they are bus riders or not," was Frey's opinion. "It's been 1993 since we missed a whole week of school," he added.
On the question of whether it made sense to hold classes with many students absent, Kennedy said, "It's better to remediate 500 than 5,000."
"We've got to get the kids in school," she continued. "We've got to change the way we do things -- we can't allow them to make excuses. If we can get 70 percent in school, we should do it."
"We ran every route on the day school started at 10 a.m.," Frey reported, adding that 693 students had been absent that day.
"If we don't compel them, they're not coming," Kennedy said, digressing into the problem of short days at the beginning and end of semesters when the buses don't run at all.
"We need to give them a reason to go to school," she concluded.
"The main thing is the safety of the children," said committee member Randy Perryman, and there was general agreement with the statement.
In other business, the transportation committee decided to: recommend the board accept a bid from Golden Circle Ford of Jackson, Tenn., for a new F250 Ford truck for maintenance supervisor Sheldon Davis; put the purchase of four school buses and four school vans on track with the county commission for next year; and take note that Frey had just filled the bus garage diesel tanks with two months' worth of fuel (16,000 gallons) in anticipation of a rise in prices.