School corp. going after stop arm offenders

It won’t be long before violators of the school bus stop arm law will be asked to smile as they break the law, after the Huntington County Community School Corporation decided at its regular meeting Monday, Aug. 26, to approve the purchase of stop arm cameras.

The purchase was part of a nearly $600,000 package that includes six buses and parts that was unanimously approved by the board, after reports that stop arm violations are on the rise.

“As we continue to see the increased number of stop arm violations – and we’re getting two to five a day – we’ve kind of targeted where our problem areas are,” said Transportation Director Vanessa Fields. “We’ve put our newer buses in those areas, so that we’re putting cameras on these buses that we plan to keep for a long time.”

Fields said the purchase will be for four 72-passenger buses, with trade-ins of four older buses in the HCCSC fleet; one 2016 used 84-passenger bus with the trade-in of a bus; and one new 66-passenger lift bus.

The 84-passenger transit bus will be used for athletic and field trips, needing only one bus driver for a trip, Fields said, adding buying the used bus saved the school corporation about $90,000.

The “parts” includes tires and up to 15 stop arm cameras she says will aid law enforcement in showing violators’ license plates better.
“In talking with our state trooper, he’s very excited to have clear pictures and be able to have video that shows license plate numbers and the whole event,” Fields told the board. “We’ve spoken to the prosecutor and she’s on board as long as we can get a view of the driver and the plate.

So we’ve worked with our video company to make sure that we place those cameras in the right spots to be able to capture those things that they’ll need to actually prosecute them.”

Fields added that there are fewer routes now where children have to cross the road to get to the bus, with more routes redesigned to pick them up on the door side.

“We make every effort to get our kiddos on the door side. It can’t happen for every stop, on every street as much as we would like that,” she explained. “But we also have been looking at the trend of where our stop arm violations are, so, for instance, on West Park Drive we pick up on both sides, because we know that’s an area that is an issue. Etna Avenue – we know that’s an area where that’s an issue.”

Fields added that if HCCSC is able to generate enough revenue from stop arm violation fees then she plans to go to the county to ask for a portion of the fees collected and purchase additional cameras.

The 2020 school budget was also introduced to the board by Assistant Superintendent for Business and Classified Staff Scott Bumgardner. He and Superintendent Chad Daugherty said that based on the latest ADM (average daily membership) of student enrollment, they are “cautiously optimistic” that this will be a good budget year for the corporation.

The proposed budget for 2020 is $56,504,352, compared to last year’s proposed $54,712,128 budget. Bumgardner’s figures for the upcoming budget include what the corporation would expect to receive if voters approve the upcoming referendum operations question in November. The proposed tax rate would be $1.48, he said, with expectations that the state will not approve the entire proposed budget. Last year HCCSC proposed a tax rate of $1.34 but received roughly $1 from the state.

Bumgardner gave some good news about the corporation’s student enrollment, saying it has “stabilized” this year.
In 2019 the enrollment was 5,006. Daugherty said this year enrollment is around 5,009 to 5,011.

“We’re very excited and cautiously optimistic until that count is official,” he added.

The “official” ADM count, which will be conducted on Sept. 13, establishes the amount of education funds the school corporation will receive from the state of Indiana for 2020.

However, Bumgardner also had some not-so-good news, reporting that the assessed valuation as a district has dropped this year, which will also affect the budget.

“This will be the first year that we’ve had less of an AV than in prior years,” he added.

The accomplishments of the past year’s budget include such projects as roof and a new secure entrance at Crestview Middle School; new football scoreboards at Crestview and Riverview middle schools; new fieldhouse floor at Huntington North High School; nine new buses; carpeting throughout the district; light upgrades; new fitness equipment at Crestview, Riverview and HNHS; and numerous interactive displays to upgrade technology.

In 2020, the list is much smaller, with new roofs planned for Flint Springs and Lincoln elementary schools next summer; new entrance and HVAC at Riverview Middle School; outdoor fields at HNHS, expansion of the Learning Center and a centralized location for both preschool and central office.

“How can we improve? I think we still need to address our teachers and our classified staff salaries,” Bumgardner said. “Benefit-wise, I think we really need to look at the insurance trust, going forward, and the fact that we now offer two different choices for that, and the fact that that has cost this district and our people some money over the years. I really feel like we need to look at that and make sure that we’re making the most cost-effective choices for not only our district but also for our staff.”

The board will vote on accepting the proposed budget after it goes through a public hearing. The next school board regular meeting is set for Monday, Sept. 9, at 7 p.m. at Salamonie School, 1063E-900S, Warren.