Friday, March 6, 2009

School bus camera plan on hold, drivers want cash and more say in plan

GRETNA, La. (AP) — Nearly two years after the Jefferson Parish School Board announced plans to put surveillance cameras on and in every school bus, only about 12 percent of the 222 buses are equipped with the cameras.

Other drivers have refused to get the cameras on board because of privacy concerns and displeasure at orders to change their vehicles.

The plan was that the outside cameras would bring in income by providing evidence for traffic tickets — people illegally passing buses stopped to let children on or off — while the inside cameras tracked everything from student fights to driver behavior.

As of July 2008, the cameras expected to generate $2 million a year had brought in a total of $20,677 — before division, schools spokesman Jeff Nowakowski said.

ONGO Live, the Mandeville video surveillance company providing the cameras, gets half the money, with the rest split between the school board and the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office.

The school board's share is part of the bus drivers' gripe. Drivers feel that since the equipment is on their buses, they should get some of the money, said Frank Morales, president of the Jefferson Parish Bus Operators Association.

"They're using my equipment to generate revenue," Morales said. "Why should the school board get any money at all?"

Drivers also want permission to cover the cameras when they carry private clients on weekends and evenings.

The board agreed to a five-year contract with ONGO in 2007. The first cameras didn't work. A handful were activated last spring. But most drivers made excuses to ONGO or refused to come in for the cameras, board member Ray St. Pierre said.

The board has said it will discipline drivers who refuse to install the cameras, but has not set a deadline or named a specific penalty.

Morales said some drivers will remain opposed to the surveillance system, no matter what, but he seemed optimistic about reaching an agreement in the near future.

"It's not us against them. It's us working with them, them working with us," he said.


Information from: The Times-Picayune,

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