Each of the 165 yellow school buses in New Hanover County will soon be equipped with four security cameras, the board of education decided during a Nov. 3 meeting.
“Approximately 34 of our buses have cameras. We’ve experimented over the years with one-camera systems, two-camera systems and three-camera systems, and there have always been dead spots on the bus. The four-camera system is the only way to go to have full coverage,” said John Welmers, assistant superintendent of human resources for New Hanover County Schools. “This will probably cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $280,000 to outfit the remainder of our buses.”
Earlier in the meeting, Welmers announced the board’s plan to train teaching assistants and part-time faculty members to drive school buses for the 2016-17 school year.
“We want to offer part-time child nutrition employees, part-time custodians and teaching assistants an opportunity to apply for the additional position of a bus driver,” he said. “Teaching assistants would be required to be licensed to drive a bus or be eligible to become licensed to become a driver.”
The new plan was motivated by a shortage in bus drivers.
“We put our heads together to come up with a plan that would help. The goal is to safely and efficiently get our kids home from school,” Welmers said.
The bus driver shortage has created an inconsistency with drivers and their routes.
“They’re driving routes they’ve never driven before. Driving a big yellow bus around Wilmington can be a bit of a challenge,” Welmers said.
The teacher assistants and other faculty members who become bus drivers will spend six hours per day at school and two hours driving a bus.
“They would either run the morning route or the afternoon route,” Welmers said. “All teacher assistant positions would be reclassified from salaried to hourly. Next year, they’d be moved to an hourly basis.”
The new payment system will allow bus drivers to receive extra compensation if they work overtime.
Welmers added that having faculty members who work in the classroom drive the school buses will increase safety because they are likely to be familiar with the students and their parents. If a bus driver witnesses inappropriate bus behavior, he or she will be able to easily communicate with the child’s parents.
“Familiarity comes from being in the school with the kid,” Welmers said.
Welmers said that bus driver shortage is a nation-wide problem, and other local counties, including Carteret County, have hired teachers to drive buses.
Welmers said next year the buses will be parked near the schools instead of in separate lots, like they are now. That way, teaching assistants and other school faculty members who drive buses can go straight from school to the bus without having to get in their cars.
Board member Janice Cavenaugh expressed her concern with keeping the buses parked at the schools overnight with no security guards.
Welmers said the board will figure out a way to increase security measures, if needed.
“We’ll just have to wait and see,” he said.