With the twin goals of saving money and providing more reliable service, Broward’s school district is spending big — more than $3 million over the next five years — to install GPS navigation systems on more than 1,300 school buses.
The system-wide technology upgrade, which also includes student-tracking ID badges that document when and where children board the bus, is Broward’s latest attempt to fix its long-troubled transportation department.
For years, Broward’s school buses have been a budget drain — the district spends more per mile than any other large school system in the state — but in August the buses became an operational nightmare as well. The first few weeks of the school year were marked by widespread busing problems that included late buses, no-show buses, and confusion over which bus a child was supposed to take (thanks to student bus passes not arriving in the mail on time).
The bus fiasco prompted thousands of parent complaints, and ultimately led to the resignation of the school district’s transportation director.
Now Superintendent Robert Runcie touts the new GPS system as a chance to finally get things right.
“It’s going to give us accuracy, it’s going to give us accountability and a level of exactness,” Runcie said. “When you call, we’re going to know where the bus is.”
The GPS contract, approved by School Board members earlier this week, is with Montana-based Education Logistics, which has provided bus-routing software to Broward for more than two decades. More commonly referred to as Edulog, the firm boasts contracts with more than 1,300 school districts throughout the United States and Canada.
By the end of the next school year, Broward parents may even be able to pull up the location of their child’s school bus on their home computer or smart phone. Runcie said getting the GPS up and running will be the first priority, but parent tools are going to be phased in later.
If implemented properly, the GPS system and student tracking ID cards should prevent any parent from experiencing the anxiety that Debbie Colangelo felt last August. Colangelo spent more than 40 minutes driving around town frantically trying to find her two middle school-age daughters — both of whom had been mistakenly dropped off by the school bus about seven miles away from home.
Colangelo called the technology upgrades a good idea that “sounds cool,” but she questioned whether the school district can afford it. About $1 million of the price tag is being paid for with financial reserves from its capital improvement fund — essentially a savings account for rainy-day expenses. That pot of money also pays for school renovations, and Broward has a long list of leaky roofs and other building needs that it says it can’t afford to fix.
“There are more basic things that need to be done with the money,” Colangelo said. “Technology doesn’t matter if your roofs are caving in, or if kids have to sit next to a bucket filling with water during a rainstorm.”
School district activist Andrew Ladanowski is more optimistic. Ladanowski chairs the Facilities Task Force — a citizen committee that has studied both aging school buildings and the district’s bloated school bus budget.