The USD 253 Board of Education received an update on a software program that will give district parents and guardians up-to-date information about their students’ bus rides during a Wednesday night meeting at Emporia High School.

The Transportant software program provides GPS tracking, real-time video camera access and ridership information to district transportation staff based on PowerSchool data. The software was rolled out on several district buses, with about seven students taking part in the testing process. The plan is to phase the system onto all buses by Fall 2020.

Transportant Director of Business Development Andy Vaughn said the system works by providing an RFID-enabled device to bus riding students. Each bus route includes a name and photo of students on the route, which alerts the driver of wrong drop-off locations. The system is also capable of alerting parents in the event of an emergency situation.

“With school buses, we typically know what should happen and then we hope it goes as planned,” he said. “With our system, we try to keep track of what is happening, and when it comes to student safety, it all begins with visibility.”

The system is equipped with turn-by-turn directions for bus drivers and instant route updates. That has been helpful already for a substitute bus driver, according to Assistant Transportation Director Becky Douglas.

“Part of this program also has GPS, so we can see the buses at all times,” Douglas said. “We had a substitute bus driver who got lost and she could not figure out where she needed to be. She radioed to us and we pulled up the GPS to exactly where she was and we were able to instruct her to where she needed to go to get back on the route. That was real nice.”

Vaughn said the system also includes a mobile app that can be downloaded by students, parents or guardians that are authorized on the PowerSchool app. That mobile app notifies students when the bus is three stops away. It also notifies parents when their child is picked up or dropped off.

This, he said, will reduce wait times for students during inclement weather conditions and will increase safety and security.

Board members were concerned with how the system would work for students who misplaced their RFID-enabled fobs. Drivers will be able to input the students into the systems manually, Vaughn said, and replacement costs are minimal at around 25 cents a pop.

Board Member Doug Epp asked how the bus drivers were reacting to the news of the software.

Douglas said the district’s drivers are excited to see the software roll out.

“Right now the drivers are happy to have it and they’re excited to see how this is all going to work,” she said.

The board also approved a contract with Terracon for predesign geotechnical investigations around the district related to upcoming construction and renovations. HTK Architects Project Manager said Terracon has provided previous geotechnical work on past projects for the district, and that all fees associated with the work have already been built into the bond.

“This is money that is already accounted for within the bond issue and is part of the contractual bond approval,” he said.

Associate Executive Director of Assessments and Accountability Ryan Karjala then presented the board with 2019 ACT scores. Overall, scores had improved and students at Emporia High School had done well.

“This is a really good win for our kids,” he said. “It’s establishing a good trend.”

Karjala said the data for 2020 will be interesting since EHS juniors will have taken the test for the first time and be added into the overall statistics.

The board also:

• Approved a donation in the amount of $20,593.48 from the Hopkins Foundation for 2019-20 Hopkins Projects.

• Approved Healthy Habits for Life Grants for William Allen White and Riverside Elementary Schools.

The board will next meet 7 p.m. Feb. 12 at Mary Herbert Education Center.

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