The Baldwin County Board of Education approved a plan to purchase software designed to improve bus safety by tracking, route mapping and monitoring gas usage for its 373-bus fleet. The Actsoft system will cost the school system $87,655 up front, while installing the software will cost an additional $14,920. The software also requires a monthly AT&T monitoring fee of $8,952.

The school system will use funds from its bus purchasing account to buy the software, which will cost approximately $82,000 for nine months of monitoring for the full fleet plus monitoring of 20 buses during summer months. School administrators will be able to monitor the location and movement of buses from most of their current devices, and transportation officials will receive alerts when bus drivers are speeding, braking hard, idling and accelerating quickly.

The tracking system operates using a data plan, and transportation officials told the board the software has been tested and works from north Baldwin County to the coast. Transportation coordinator Mike Vivar said the software will help the system save money on fuel costs and improve safety for the approximately 15,000 students transported by bus each day during the school year.

Board member Angie Swiger, who represents District 5, said the software will not only boost bus safety, but also will protect drivers against allegations of misconduct.

“It is not as much of a ‘gotcha’ for bus drivers as it is a way we can go back and look to see if allegations of speeding or other things are true,” she said. “We can go back and look to see if, in fact, they were speeding or not. Plus, if there is a bus in trouble somewhere we can easily locate it.”

The purchase was approved with a 6-1 vote, with board member Tony Myrick opposing. Myrick said he was not convinced the school system needs upgraded bus software while facing a budgeting “crisis” following a failed March tax referendum.

“I’m not totally convinced that this routing software is really going to be effective at all,” Myrick said. “Any time you have buses that are overlapping because they only pick up certain age groups, and others are overloaded, that’s not going to work. I just don’t see where this helps.

“Every kid on that bus has a cell phone. It isn’t going to be like they are out on an island somewhere. The parents will probably know what’s going on before we do because the students get it out there before we can. If we had plenty of money I wouldn’t have a problem with it but I just can’t support it.”

Board member David Cox asked whether the upgraded software would allow the school system to eliminate driver cell phones.

“When the radios are fully operational, then the only cell phones we will need will be on the special-needs buses,” Vivar said.

Board approves task force, first meeting June 9
The school board also approved a list of 27 people assigned to the county’s first Community Advisory Task Force, charged with seeking ideas from citizens regarding school funding, curriculum, facilities, leadership and communication. The group will have public meetings twice per month at Robertsdale High School at 5:30 p.m., the first of which is scheduled for June 9.

Proposed as a response to a call from the public for greater transparency and citizen involvement in the wake of a failed sales tax initiative, the school board asked county commissioners and mayors from each of the county’s feeder patterns to nominate citizens to the task force. Some task force members have children or grandchildren in the school system, while others do not.

The task force is expected to deliver a set of recommendations to the board in September.

The task force includes Liana Barnett, Bay Minette; Barbara Brown, Bay Minette; Todd Stewart, Bay Minette; Paul Hollingsworth, Robertsdale; Chris Hadley, Robertsdale; Dewane Hayes, Rosinton; Jimmy Davis, Summerdale; Kevin Corcoran, Gulf Shores; Doug Warren, Ono Island; Christina McInnis, Orange Beach; Roger Few, Spanish Fort; Michael Robson, Spanish Fort; Sharee Broussard, Spanish Fort; Vickie Bailey, Fairhope; Tommy Faust Jr., Fairhope; Kathy Sternenberg, Fairhope; Kelly McGriff, Montrose; Cody Phillips, Fairhope; Jennifer Graham Jenkins, Daphne; Starke Irvine, Daphne; Jon Archer, Magnolia Springs; David Vosloh, Foley; Randall Caldwell, Foley; Jennifer Watkins, Foley; Jennifer Archuleta, Elberta; Jason Kozon, Elberta; and Susan Hamby, Elberta.

Baldwin County Education Coalition Executive Director Terry Burkle said she is confident the task force comprises people who are eager to serve. Burkle said the task force will serve in an advisory role to the board, which will use the recommendations in policy making in the future.

The task force was approved unanimously, but some board members expressed concerns about its size and composition. Board member David Tarwater was concerned that 27 members may be too many, while Angie Swiger objected to at least one citizen she said was connected to political groups.

In other business, with a 4-3 vote the board delayed until July 18 a vote on the promotion of long-time school system principal Hope Zeanah to the position of assistant superintendent. The delay came as some board members expressed concern that a new superintendent should be allowed to hire his or her own staff. The board accepted resumes for the superintendent position through July 8. Board Attorney Scotty Lewis will deliver the resumes to the board for review.

Board member Cecil Christenberry said Zeanah is the right person for the job, no matter who the new superintendent will be. Others speculated Zeanah could be appointed as interim superintendent if the board has not hired a full-time superintendent by August.

“I think hiring her would be a great service to whoever the new superintendent will be, because [she] is the absolute perfect person for the job we are talking about,” Christenberry said.

Outgoing Superintendent Robbie Owen said if Zeanah was given the role of assistant superintendent, her previous position would be eliminated, saving the school system approximately $90,000 per year.