Ladanowski said the GPS system makes the actions of bus drivers “100 percent transparent.” The school district will suddenly know if drivers are obeying the speed limit, properly stopping at railroad crossings, or making unauthorized pit stops to boost their hourly pay.
Ladanowski also believes the new technology could help reduce student absenteeism, since parents and schools can immediately know if a child didn’t get on the bus that morning.
Ultimately, though, Ladanowski said the worth of the system will be judged on whether it saves the district significant money. In theory, adding GPS should enable the district to design more efficient bus routes by using the latest up-to-date information on traffic patterns, road construction and the time it takes to travel between stops. Electronic student tracking, meanwhile, could help consolidate bus routes that aren’t serving many students, and give the district a more accurate count of its total bus ridership.
The district has struggled with that count time and again, causing it to lose millions in state funding over the years.
When presenting the proposed contract to School Board members, Edulog President Jason Corbally said the GPS and student tracking systems usually pay for themselves over time. School district staff also predicted the technology would save money, though they didn’t promise a specific amount.
Still, board members were divided on the proposal. It passed on a 6-3 vote, with board members Patricia Good, Donna Korn, and Nora Rupert voting no. Rupert called the $3 million price tag higher than expected, while Korn was in favor of the GPS installation, but wanted the student tracking technology postponed for now.
“The fact that the two were married, and could not be separated, for me that was a surprise,” Korn said Friday, adding that fixing school roofs and improving school safety are more pressing needs than creating a student ID system. The student tracking system accounts for about $1.2 million of the $3 million cost.
Some board members suggested easing into GPS with a cheaper small-scale pilot program. Runcie and a majority of the board resisted, however, as the district has been burned by a piecemeal approach in the past.
In 2007, the district spent nearly $900,000 buying GPS equipment from a different company, but that purchase was for only the first phase of the equipment installation. When the economy crashed and school funding plummeted, the district was forced to freeze its GPS spending and could never buy the software needed to actually use the units it had already installed.
Just before the vote to approve this new system, School Board Chairwoman Laurie Rich Levinson expressed confidence that the student tracking cards will improve the bus ridership counts — resulting in additional funding.
“It takes an investment to bring a return,” she said.