Board approves student tracking system

The School Board of Highlands County approved a lease agreement for a student tracking system so it will know at any time who is riding any district school bus.

SEBRING — The leasing of a system to track students on school buses was unanimously approved by the School Board of Highlands County.

Transportation Director David Solomon noted at Tuesday’s School Board meeting that last school year when a bus driver was hurt and incapacitated in an accident the district was trying to determine who was on the school bus.

The Highlands County Sheriff’s Office also recommended that the district implement a ridership tracking system.

Students will have an ID tag/card, with a chip in it, that will be read by a unit inside the bus as they get on and off the bus, Solomon explained. Initially only the students who ride a school bus will get an ID tag, but the system can also be utilized in the school media centers and cafeterias and at football games.

The agreement before the School Board was with Seattle-based Zonar for $88,464, which included a three-year lease for the hardware and software for the tracking system. The School District would have to pay for the student ID cards, which cost about $1.99 for each card for the 5,500 students who ride a bus.

School Board Chairman Bill Brantley asked if the ID tags would be a photo ID?

Solomon said the cards can have all of that on them, but they will probably start out with a standard card, which will likely be modified by the schools.

Assistant Superintendent of Business Operations Mike Averyt said the system will also automate the student count process (FTE), which is currently done manually.

School districts receive state funding based on the student count/attendance data, which is called “full-time equivalent.”

School Board Member Donna Howerton questioned the cost and said it was not put out for bid with district accepting one vendor. She has seen other systems are available that would cover the whole school not just the buses.

“Why did we choose this one,” she asked.

The district looked at two systems, with pilot projects, Solomon replied.

The ID cards from Zonar work by “proximity,” meaning they are read by the tracking unit when the students walk by it; there is no swiping of the card, he said. The other company uses ID cards with barcodes that have to be read from a certain distance, which would increase the time to load and unload kids on the bus. The goal is to keep the loading/unloading time minimized especially for stops on U.S. 27. The school district has five stops on U.S. 27.

Brantley said the system is expandable so it can be used by food service and at school entry points for security.

Averyt and Solomon said they will start with a short pilot program to work out any bugs in the system before implementing it district-wide.

The system will be funded by the half-cent sales tax, Averyt noted.

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