Cumberland County school buses would be equipped with two-way radios to improve communication with individual schools under a plan approved Tuesday by a school board committee.
The Auxiliary Services Committee voted unanimously to award a contract to A Beep LLC for two-way radios on school buses.
The matter now will go before the full Board of Education.
Kristi Harden, executive director of transportation for Cumberland County Schools, told the committee members that A Beep, a company based in Juliet, Illinois, made the lowest bid for the portable equipment.
School transportation officials had sought to outfit the district’s 530 school buses and service vehicles — including mechanic and fuel trucks — with radios, as well as provide 100 hand-held radios for school employees.
Each school in the system would be provided with a hand-held radio, Harden said.
“Our goal is to increase communication throughout the district,” she said.
Buses are currently equipped with cellphones, said Kevin Coleman, associate superintendent of auxiliary services.
But Coleman said there are problems relying on cellphone communication.
“You’re not allowed to use the cellphone when you’re driving a bus,” he said. “You also can only dial by dialing dispatch. It’s really hard for central services — Mrs. Harden or anybody — to get up with the bus driver actively on the route. These two-way radios will allow instant communication, so it really opens up that line of communication. …”
School board member Greg West asked if the radios would be purchased or rented.
Harden said they would be purchased for a one-time cost of about $254,000 and then $90,000 a year, and airtime would be covered for 10 months, the lowest rate offered by five companies that submitted bids.
West asked whether the coverage would reach rural parts of the county.
“We were able to test 20 radios, purposely placed in some of the areas where we have challenges, and it was successful,” Harden said.
Committee Chairman Nathan Warfel made a motion to accept A Beep’s bid to provide the radios for buses. Susan Williams seconded the motion.
Warfel, Williams and West voted to give the green light to the plan.
The full school board will take final action on the plan at its regular meeting on Feb. 14.
Harden said using the two-way radios would reduce the time for cellphone use that the school system has been paying.
The radios will allow reporting departure and arrival times, traffic problems, misplaced students and behavior problems, officials said.
In other business, the Policy Committee approved revisions to a policy on students who are registered sex offenders.
Board of Education attorney Nick Sojka said the system is required by state law to revise the policy on restrictions for areas where minors are known to congregate. It restricts access to school-sponsored or school-related activities for sex offenders who are also students.
Committee member Carrie Sutton moved to approve the revisions, and her motion was seconded by Williams.
The change will now go before the full board.
Committee members Judy Musgrave and Alicia Chisolm were absent on Tuesday.
Michael Futch covers Fayetteville and education for CityView. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.