Funds from the quarter-cent sales tax increase passed by Lincoln County voters in May 2018 are being put to good use by Lincoln County Schools. All of the school district’s 108 active and running school buses have been equipped with interior, HD-quality 1080p video surveillance cameras. An additional 14 buses have exterior stop sign cameras that help to view passengers as they exit the bus and cross the road and to view cars that may be illegally passing the bus. Not only do these cameras give the bus drivers an additional set of eyes,they also allows Eric Eaker, Lincoln County Schools chief of operations, and other administrative staff access to high-quality video recordings for them to discern what’s going on in and around the school buses after the fact.
“The way we worked it this year is funding would really not allow the district to install the exterior cameras on more than 14 buses,” Eaker said. “The outside cameras are a different quality. They’re an IP (Internet Protocol) camera and much more expensive.”
Each year, when funds are available, the State of North Carolina gives school districts money to buy stop sign cameras, Eaker said. Normally, it’s about $6,000, which is only enough to buy two units.
The video recorded by the cameras is time stamped and can be saved for as long as six weeks. There is a terabyte of storage space available.
“The quality is very good,” Eaker said. “We’ve already used it several times this school year. Most recently on Monday, we sent in information to the Lincolnton Police Department on a vehicle that passed one of our stopped school buses in a school zone. We were able to give them the make, model and identification of the car based on the footage.”
The cameras have also helped with prosecution of an individual driving a vehicle that crossed the center line, swerving over and causing a crash behind the school bus.
Eaker has strategically placed the exterior cameras on those buses traveling on zones where there is a known problem with vehicles passing stopped school buses. The interior cameras are also able to capture some of what’s going on outside the bus, but their primary use is to monitor the inside of the bus for student behavior and management, for safety purposes, Eaker said.
“Bus driving is probably one of the hardest jobs anyone can do,”he said. “You’ve got one driver driving a 40-foot vehicle with up to 60 kids at some point in time on the bus. They’re tasked with taking those kids home, safely, maneuvering and driving that bus safely and at the same time monitoring what’s going on in the cab to make sure everybody is following the safety protocol and rules and regulations.”
Understandably, the drivers aren’t always going to catch all that’s going on. What they may miss is now available on a high-quality video recording. If, for example, a principal gets a call from a parent saying their child is being picked on, the principal can review the video footage. If something happens at a particular time during the route, the driver can put a mark on the recording to make it easier for administration to find on the recording.
“For privacy reasons, parents are never shown the videos because other students can be seen in the footage,” Eaker said. “One good thing about this software is we can blur out faces and can pin point it down where we show just one child and what that child was doing on the bus. We don’t share the videos unless they’re subpoenaed.”
The cost for the interior cameras was $137,500. When Lincoln County Schools was petitioning for the quarter cent sales tax, this was one of the items that the system said the money would be used for.
The lifespan of these cameras is eight to 10 years. They’re under complete warranty for five years.