Cobb Schools OK Stop-Arm Fines
The measure, prompted by the tragic death of an East Cobb kindergartener, still needs Cobb commission approval.
A year after putting cameras on school buses to detect stop-arm violations, the Cobb Board of Education voted Thursday to put some more teeth into those preventative measures.
The board voted 7-0 to sign an agreement with American Traffic Solutions to issue citatations to motorists who avoid the bus stop-arms, which are designed to protect students entering and leaving buses.
The plan also calls for the installation of stop-arm cameras on all of the approximately 1,200 county school buses. The pilot program begun last year covered about 100 buses.
Greater stop-arm enforcement was prompted by the 2009 death of 5-year-old Mountain View Elementary School student Karla Campos, who was struck by an elderly driver as she departed a bus.
"It's taken a long time, but we're finally there," said Cobb school board member David Banks, who represents the Mountain View school community. "In her memory, this is her law."
The measure still requires the approval of the Cobb Board of Commissioners, which is expected to consider it next week.
When the experimental program began last year, only police in unincorporated Cobb could issue fines for violators. An amendment to a state law passed last year would allow school districts to issue citations directly, and in the case of Cobb, through a third-party vendor.
If the commission gives its approval, ATS will be permitted to collect $300 fines for first-time violators, $750 fines for second-time violators and $1,000 fines for those cited a third time or more. ATS, which is paying for the cost of the additional cameras, will keep 75 percent of the proceeds, with the rest to go to the school system.
Chris Ragsdale, Cobb's deputy superintendent for operational support, said all new buses the system orders will be pre-installed with the stop-arm cameras.
"Revenue isn't the thing about this contract," he said. "What we want is to have zero stop-arm violations in this district."
"The bottom line is the safety of the children," Mountain View parent Mandi Call told the board shortly before Thursday's vote.
She created Operation Stop Arm to lobby the Georgia legislature and to raise safety awareness.
Also on Thursday, Dr. Judi Jones, the chief academic officer for the Cobb County School District, highlighted recently released results of the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests (CRCT).
The percentage of Cobb students meeting or exceeding grade level standards topped the state average, and Cobb reported an overall percentage increase in scores in all grades and subjects except for third-grade math, which was down by one percent.
"We're very happy with the results," Jones told the board. "There's a lot to celebrate this year."
The school board also set the millage rate at 18.90 mills for fiscal year 2013, down from the 19.90 mills called for when it passed the budget, because of $20 million in excess from SPLOST collections.
But the vote was along split 4-3 lines, with board chairman Scott Sweeney, vice chairman David Morgan, Banks and Lynnda Eagle voting in favor.
Voting against were Tim Stultz, who preferred a millage rate of 17.90, Allison Bartlett and Kathleen Angelucci.
Bartlett said that even with a millage rate of 20 mills, "we're still short $40 million" in fiscal year 2014 budget deficit projections. "That is a big concern for me."
The board also voted 6-1 to accept the latest phase of the district's Strategic Plan, focusing on five core values. Banks cast the lone dissenting vote because he disagreed with one of them, "Differentiate resources for areas/schools based on needs." He said that language would require the board to "relinquish authority" to the superintendent.
But Jones countered that the measure means that "we have to look at schools that have different needs." She said the next step would be to begin an implementation process for the Strategic Plan.
In other business the board:
- Agreed to further consider a proposal by board member Lynnda Eagle to hire retired adminstrators to serve on teacher tribunals when board members are not available. Superintendent Michael Hinojosa said "we've come dangerously close" to not meeting the timetables for disciplinary and dismissal hearings for teachers, which require three board members. Eagle said the measure would be used only as "a backup for when we can't" attend.
- Voted 7-0 to approve a $368,000 contract for renovations at Lost Mountain Middle School.
- Approved, also by a 7-0 vote, to continue a lease at the old Paulding County Courthouse to house the Cobb/Paulding Adult Education Center for GED programs.