It is sad but true: Knowing where our students are has never been more important. In the last few years, there have been so many, too many, horrific events which emphasize our societal need and duty to utilize technology for student tracking. Some initially may think or say this appears to be "sci-fi" or "big brother." However, when we stop and think about the importance and possible negligence, to turn our backs seems like a liability.
Many school districts have invested in the safety and security of our students, employees and assets. This investment consisted of installing GPS and RFID systems on all vehicles the district owns. With the installation of these systems, we are able to monitor, in real time, the exact location(s) of each vehicle and correspond the time and location the student enters and exits the vehicle. Since the implementation, it has allowed us to answer the hard questions presented by the parent/guardian(s) and schools of where a student may be. This has been incredible in alleviating anxieties and reducing action times and actually giving an ROI in staff time.
Allow me to provide a scenario; a call is received by dispatch regarding lost student. First, you pull up the GPS information, which is Web based. It will then give the "path" of the vehicle including times and locations; next you access when and where the student loaded/unloaded the bus. This simple action will enable you to see the exact address/location where they got on/off the bus with a time/date stamp. This is valuable information to verify the student(s) intentions and to assist in the event it is necessary to dispatch someone to the indicated location(s). It has proven to be very valuable information to parents, schools, administration and staff. The ability to immediately pull this information saves precious time for all involved. Parents have embraced our program as the bus system is essential to their families as well because, in addition to the above, they also have the option to sign up to receive a text/email alert about their student's location throughout the day, which gives additional peace of mind.
Although the scenario given is that for a bused student, it is possible for the infrastructure of this system to be expanded districtwide. Business services has been discussing the various options. At a minimum, the RFID card and reader(s) could be used for student time and attendance, lunch programs, library card, reimbursements and so on — let your imagination be your guide. The RFID card has the ability to be printed on cards such as the current student ID. In using an RFID card, it is possible to expand the program so every student then has a regulatory student picture ID with reader capabilities.
Budgets are always on our minds, as they should be. ROI was mentioned; many school districts in Colorado made the decision of pay for transportation. Utilizing the system data as our collection device is assisting in payment requirements, verifications and minimizing staff time. Additional features include data for state reporting, idle reductions and Medicaid reimbursements, to name a few.
Traditionally, Medicaid reimbursements are cumbersome and entail endless amounts of paper, so data collected can aid in streamlining the reporting process, minimizing paperwork and maximizing reporting options. Planning, routing and scheduling now have actual data to use in calculations, scheduling and projections; furthermore, the programs all interface with routing software, student information systems and fleet systems. Additional savings have come through route, time and payroll adjustments as well as reduction in idle times. With the GPS units, we are also able to monitor unnecessary or unauthorized miles traveled, while simple text and email alerts allow for proactive approaches instead of the traditional reactions. There are specific requirements for drivers including pre-trip inspections and current credentials, and the system has additional features to ensure all district, state and federal regulations are being followed.
Safety enhancements include knowing where and what time the child got off the bus. These systems can also assist with chain of custody. For students who must be met by an adult, RFID systems help assure an "approved" individual is the one receiving the child. Data collected here enables operations to review the individuals to which a child's custody was handed to and also provide the framework for some federal reporting regulations.
I give you one last scenario; the recent cold weather brought possible problems with vehicle starts and break-downs. Through the messaging system, we were prepared by calling in necessary personnel to start the vehicles and gave permissions to begin the routes earlier. These simple actions saved time and insured students were not waiting unnecessarily in the cold. I am happy to report that the buses were run on time and there were no breakdowns due to the extreme cold; however, in the event there was an emergency or breakdown we would be able to access the location immediately and dispatch required assistance.
As you can see, the uses are endless to these technological advances. I will gladly share specifics and additional information on systems I am familiar with. Being more efficient through technology is a money-saving proposition, which I recommend to every district.
Anderson is the principal and owner of Anderson Consulting, which provides finance, special education and transportation efficiency services to school districts. She is a former director of transportation and is a frequent conference presenter for the North American School Bus EXPO, the Transporting Students with Disabilities and Preschoolers National Conference and numerous other state and national conferences and workshops. She can be contacted at