Houston considers cameras to catch motorists violating school bus laws

PERRY -- Logistical questions remain about a proposal to install school bus cameras aimed at catching motorists who ignore extended stop arms, Houston County school board members said Monday.

At Monday’s work session, the board once again reviewed the proposal in which American Traffic Solutions would install cameras on some school buses. Board members expressed concerns about the details of two drafted contracts, including the length of the contract with ATS and the board’s involvement in a revenue-generating venture.

“I don’t think we ought to be in the revenue-raising business,” said board member Charles Hill.

The board will vote Tuesday whether to allow Superintendent Robin Hines to sign contracts for the new enforcement cameras.

“As it stands right now, it’s still being worked out,” said Frank Scott, the system’s transportation director.

At its July 16 work session, the board pulled the cameras item from its agenda because members wanted a definite number of buses that would be outfitted and an agreement between the Houston County Sheriff’s Office and the school system.

A draft of that agreement, called an interagency services agreement, was presented Monday as one of two contracts. The second, a professional services agreement, would be between the school system and ATS.

School board attorney Billy Jerles said he recommends a third contract be drafted for the Houston County Commission since it would be the entity to which fines are paid through the courts.

“We need to make sure we have everyone on board,” Jerles said.

Under the agreement, ATS would install and manage cameras on 20 of the system’s 237 buses. The company would use video and still photographs to catch motorists who violate the law by passing a school bus with an extended stop-arm.

The sheriff’s office would validate the violation, and the traffic company would issue the ticket.

Houston County schools, ATS and the sheriff’s office would share revenues. Per the agreement, the traffic company would receive 75 percent of the revenue the first year to pay installation costs, 60 percent the second year and 50 percent for the remainder of the contract.

The remaining money would be split equally between the sheriff’s office and the school system, according to the interagency services agreement draft.

“We’re hoping ... it’ll raise awareness,” said Stephen Thublin, school system comptroller, when Hill expressed concerns about revenue. “Our hope is we wouldn’t raise any revenue.”

Thublin said any revenue would be put into further school safety awareness.

Board members also asked for the suggested five-year term of the ATS contract to be reviewed before it’s signed.

According to the Georgia Department of Driver Services, violators of the law that prohibits passing a school bus loading or unloading passengers could incur up to $1,000 in fines.

The Houston County system conducted one-day surveys in the past two schools years. In the 2010-2011 school year survey, motorists ignored extended stop-arms 36 times. In the 2011-2012 survey, arms were ignored 86 times.

According to ATS’ website, the company leads the national market in traffic cameras with more than 3,000 installed across the country.

David Jackson, senior business development director at ATS, said Carroll County Schools agreed Monday to work with the Arizona-based company, and Cobb County commissioners will vote Tuesday on the topic. Jackson said Newton County, Muscogee County and the city of Carrollton already have the cameras.

“This is part of a major initiative statewide to push school safety,” Thublin said.

Also at Monday’s meeting, the board reviewed items to set the millage rate at 13.34 mills and to increase out-of-county tuition for employees’ children by $678 to $2,354 for this school year.

Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report. To contact writer Christina M. Wright, call 256-9685.