District wants to keep an eye on its buses

Rock Hill school buses sit in a bus yard.
Rock Hill school buses sit in a bus yard.

The Rock Hill school district might become the latest South Carolina district to beef up security by installing surveillance cameras on buses.

District officials hope that enough money will be left over after upgrading security systems at middle and high schools to put cameras on 30 to 50 buses this school year.

The district has set aside $750,000 for security cameras, but upgrading schools' systems is the first priority.

The cameras would serve as a backup when disciplinary incidents happen on the buses. They are not designed to replace the driver as the authority figure.

"Believe it or not, young'uns will act up on a school bus just as much as they will in a classroom," said John Hair, associate superintendent for administrative services.

Cameras also would capture altercations between parents or others on the street and the driver or students.

Cameras likely would point down the steps where students get on the bus and back into the bus where the students sit, said George Hampton, district director of transportation.

They would capture video and audio.

If a disciplinary incident happened on the bus, school administrators would be able to review video to determine who was involved and what happened.

Donald Tudor, director of transportation for the S.C. Department of Education, said putting cameras on buses is a statewide trend.

The York school district first put cameras on its buses in 2004, said Richard Podmore, transportation supervisor for the district.

Podmore said the cameras have been a useful tool for administrators when dealing with disciplinary problems.

"It's really nothing anybody needs to be afraid of," he said. "If they're doing what they're supposed to on the bus, the video will show that."

Watching the bus go around

Security cameras aren't the only high-tech upgrades headed for school buses.

The state plans to install Global Positioning Systems on school buses by next school year. The systems will tell officials where a bus went, where it stopped and how fast it traveled.

GPS can be used to track things as detailed as whether or not a driver followed proper procedures at a railroad crossing and whether the bus came to a complete stop before the doors opened.

Rock Hill plans to purchase an add-on to the system that will allow officials to see the data in real time.

"We will have software here that we can just literally sit here and watch that bus go around and around," Hampton said.

By eliminating issues such as idling and diversions from designated routes, Tudor said the systems will save about $1.5 million per year.