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Roundup: DCS Burns Through Money with Stop-Arm Program and More

Dallas County Schools is in trouble. Its controversial stop-arm program, which is designed to record and ticket drivers who bypass the stop arms on school buses, failed to meet revenue expectations and was $20 million behind projections.

DCS also said it plans to quickly cut up to 100 jobs after a bus contractor reported to be $42 million behind budget projections.

Rick Sorrels, superintendent of Dallas County Schools, said staff reductions and other efforts are needed to restructure the agency’s finances.

Records showed DCS had spent $50 million buying camera equipment – not only for school buses in Dallas County, but also for other school districts across the state.

DCS would give them cameras in exchange for splitting fines collected when drivers run past the school bus stop arms.

After insisting the stop-arm program would pay for itself four years ago, DCS said parts of the program will need to be discontinued and that 50 of the layoffs will come from those changes.

Officials have not identified the areas from which the other jobs will be cut.

In addition, DCS employees used $80,000 in taxpayer money to pay hundreds of traffic tickets racked up by school bus drivers who ran red lights.

CFO Alan King said bookkeeping at DCS was so bad when he arrived, $30 million of transactions do not appear recorded in the districts books.

The union that represents some of the employees whose jobs will be cut said it’s stunned by the depth of the problems.

“I’m really concerned and shocked that this is happening at this time,” said Angela Davis, president of the NEA-Dallas.

Officials said school bus service will not be affected by the staff cuts.

The New Jersey driver of a school bus with seven West Windsor-Plainsboro High School South students on board died after suffering an apparent medical condition and crashing.

Authorities said the unnamed driver had a medical issue that caused the vehicle to leave the roadway. It struck a tree branch and then another tree before coming to a stop partially off the roadway.

“A girl and a boy who were also on the bus tried to ensure that he was back on the seat,” said Sanjana Marepally, a student who was on the bus, adding that “we didn’t have much control there, and he kind of fell off. So I reached over and put it in park and took the keys out.”

Several of them attempted to help the driver, Marepally saying, “We were asking him, ‘Do you know where you are? Do you know what’s happening?’ And he was like, ‘Yes, I’m a bus driver. I’m diabetic.’ So I think he knew what was happening, and I think he was doing the best he could in the situation that he was put in.”

He was rushed to the University Medical Center at Princeton Plainsboro, where he later died at the hospital. The exact type of medical emergency has not been released.

Students and parents said it appeared the driver was attempting to crash in the safest way possible to protect his passengers.

A 14-year-old female student reported pain to her wrist and hand area but declined any medical attention at the scene, and no other injuries were reported.

The school bus sustained minor damage from the crash.

Missouri police are investigating a morning assault at a school bus stop that resulted in a girl being taken to a hospital.

Columbia Police Department spokeswoman Latisha Stroer said police were sent to investigate an assault involving three girls.

Two girls, ages 14 and 15, were taken into juvenile custody for suspected second-degree assault.

A third girl was taken to a hospital, the extent of her injuries unknown.

Columbia Public Schools spokeswoman Michelle Baumstark said a school bus driver arriving at the bus stop saw someone on the ground and reported it to authorities.

Two buses were at the scene, but Baumstark said she would not reveal their destinations because that might make students involved in the incident identifiable.

She added that school officials were working with police to get more information.

A five-day study conducted in Henrico, Virginia, showed that 3,408 suspected violations were recorded by school bus drivers “from all areas of the county” at the end of September.

“All parents need to be aware of school buses and of children walking in the area of school buses,” said Josh Davis, director of pupil transportation for Henrico Public Schools. “School buses are by far the safest method for children to travel to and from school, but most accidents that harm children occur in the ‘danger zone’ around stopped school buses.”

In 2015, police said they issued about 30 citations for drivers violating school bus stop signs. 

“If a citizen believes that school buses interfere or disrupt their daily commute to and from work, they should consider slightly changing their schedule and/or route,” Davis said.

In Virginia, drivers must stop for a school bus that has flashing red lights and an extended stop sign when approaching from any direction. The one exception is if there is a median or barrier dividing the road and the bus is on the opposite side. 

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