FAIRMONT - Buses transporting Fairmont Area Schools students will have a new accessory when school starts next month.
Earlier this year, a shared-cost agreement between the school and Minnesota Motor Bus cleared the way for installation of $22,000 worth of cameras on the buses. The units include sound recording.
The bus company runs 18 routes during the school year - 13 regular routes and five routes for special needs students - hauling about 1,200 students to and from school each day.
Minnesota Motor Bus employee Travis Luetgers checks out the video transmissions from new school bus cameras.
The new camera system has been installed on all vehicles running regular routes.
Parents and students can check out the system during registration Friday and Monday at the elementary and junior-senior high schools.
"From a driver's perspective, it's difficult for a driver to catch everything that happens," said Tom Hey, an owner of Minnesota Motor Bus. "We really wanted to do something, help make the students' day start out great and end great. That's a win-win for both of us."
Each regular bus has a four-camera system, with lenses covering the front quarter, middle and rear of the buses, and the fourth projecting the driver's compartment.
"It's actually a pretty exciting thing," Hey said.
Curt Luetgers, manager of Minnesota Motor Bus in Fairmont, agrees that the camera system will provide an extra layer of safety for students.
"We've had cameras for a long time. This is just a new system," Luetgers said. "The early system we had was not real good, just video. The new one is all digital."
Luetgers and Hey stressed that the video will not be monitored constantly. Rather, it only will be used if there is an "incident."
"They're recording, but it's not being viewed every day," Luetgers said.
The driver is able to mark the video at the time of an incident so the dean of students, who is in charge of discipline, knows where to start viewing. With a new state anti-bullying law in effect - and for all-around safety and fairness - the cameras have received positive reviews from bus and school staff.
"The software allows us to go in and blur out faces," said Hey, explaining that other students' privacy will be protected.
Luetgers and his crew are putting the finishing polishes and repairs on the buses in preparation for the start of school. The only thing he is lacking is extra drivers. He said drivers are paid by the route, but it roughly computes to about $15 per hour.
"Each route is a little different," Luetgers said. "But I enjoy the kids. The kids are fun."