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Officials looking into GPS devices for school buses

Madison Mathews • Nov 1, 2012 at 10:40 PM

The issue of bus safety is still on the minds of the Washington County Board of Education following the September crash of a county school bus in which 27 students were injured.

While the possibility of adding seat belts to school buses hasn’t been ruled out, the board’s Safety Committee is seriously looking at adding Global Positioning System tracking systems to the county’s bus fleet, committee chairman William Brinkley said following Thursday’s meeting.

“At this time, I think we’re leaning to really wanting to look at GPS systems,” he said.

The driver of the bus, Brenda K. Gray, 54, Jonesborough, lost control and went off the road.

Officials said the bus, which carried 39 David Crockett High School students, turned onto its side and rolled once.

Gray, who was terminated from the system last month, is charged with eight counts of reckless aggravated assault, 31 counts of felony reckless endangerment, speeding, reckless driving and failure to exercise due care.

Following the filing of five lawsuits against the Board of Education, the school board handed over a $700,000 check to the Circuit Court Clerk’s office so it can be distributed among the 39 students who were on the bus.

Director of Schools Ron Dykes said the school bus involved in the crash — Bus 88 — has been inspected by three different agencies and was found “to be in sound mechanical condition,” according to the committee report.

Both the National Transportation Safety Board and the Tennessee Department of Safety do not require school buses to have seat belts.

The school board seriously looked at installing seat belts on its bus fleet a few years ago, but cited cost and bus safety history as reasons to not reconfigure the fleet.

Brinkley said installing GPS devices on buses could be a better alternative to seat belts since the tracking information allows officials to monitor speeds and locations of each bus.

“If we get complaints that this bus driver is flying, we’ve got a record we can look at,” he said. “I think it can also help us monitor if our buses are staying in the zones they’re supposed to be in.”

The cost for GPS installation on the county’s bus fleet would be anywhere between $20,000 to $30,000 for hardware and an annual cost of $30,000 for software, Brinkley said.

In other business, the board approved to adopt a resolution to amend the Budget Control Act of 2011, which includes a provision to impose $1.2 trillion in across-the-board budget cuts to nearly all federal programs, including education.

Dykes said the cuts would see an 8.2 percent reduction in funds for education, which would result in at least $377,000 for Washington County.

The resolution will be presented to Congress through the National School Boards Association.

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