CCISD to implement SMART tag system for bus riders in January
By BRITTANY FHOLER
After Christmas break, the Copperas Cove Independent School District will be implementing an RFID-technology system called SMART Tag with its buses and bus riders beginning in January 2020.
The CCISD board of trustees approved the purchase during its meeting held Tuesday evening, with an initial cost of $146,167.30 for software and equipment. The recurring annual cost will be $31,453.40.
The district will begin the installation of software and equipment on 60 regular buses and 20 special needs buses over Christmas break, so that when students return to school in January, the 2,900 students who ride buses in the district will be able to benefit from the program, according to CCISD Director of Transportation Gary Elliott.
Each eligible bus rider will be provided a card with RFID technology. When they board their bus and when they leave their bus, they will present the card to the RFID reader on the bus. The program will log the boarding information and verify whether the student is authorized to be on that particular bus and will verify that the student is getting off at the correct stop.
SMART Tag has an app where parents can access up-to-date boarding activity and can receive text alerts when their child is approximately 10-15 minutes from their drop off stop.
The system monitors when and where students board or disembark a bus, which helps ensure that students only get on their designated bus and increases bus driver and parent/guardian awareness. The SMART Tag system utilizes RFID technology and cloud-connected tablet computers.
“I’ll be able to see 155 bus routes moving at the same time,” Elliott said. “So I will see every bus in Copperas Cove moving on its route, and I’ll be able to look at it and tell where that bus is, in case there was some kind of emergency, so to speak.”
Currently, bus drivers have to manually keep track of paperwork.
Through the SMART Tag system, the technology will keep track and automatically give the greatest number of students that rode on a particular day.
The program will be used for Special Education reporting requirements and State Headcount reporting requirements.
Each CCISD campus will have a portal that allows them to identify where the bus is located and what students are on the bus.
“That also is a huge, huge step, because that takes my staff quite a bit of time putting everybody’s name, address, telephone number, and all this stuff in, so this system will automatically will pick up on which day was my greatest ridership, because that’s where we receive funding from the state,” Elliott said. “You can’t go wrong because the computer is going to tell me what day I had the most riders, instead of me gambling on every Wednesday.”
In Central Texas, Georgetown was one of the first districts to go live with SMART Tag, and Belton is readying to go live soon as well, Elliott said.
Current bus policies for pre-kindergarten and kindergarten involves parent/guardians being given a special card from the Transportation Department that they must show to retrieve their student from the bus.
Elliott said the district would be figuring out how to “pilot” with this policy when implementing SMART Tag. He added that the district would be seeing if SMART Tag had anything that could replace these parent cards.
The SMART Tag card will replace the students’ bus pass, but the card will also be able to be used in the lunch line and in the library, making it a “win” for three departments, Elliott said.
If a student forgets or loses their SMART Tag card, they will still be able to ride their bus. The bus driver will be able to override the program to allow for this, Elliott said.
“I met with drivers this morning, and they were really, really happy that it’s coming. I mentioned it to them a couple years back about its capabilities, and they were excited then, and then when I told them this probably is going to happen come January, they were really ecstatic about it,” Elliott said. “Because we do a whole lot of counting, because everything’s based on numbers and it’s all been done with pencil and paper, but just the sense of security of knowing that every kid got dropped off today, there is nothing showing on the system.”
Elliott added that he checks every bus to make sure it is empty before he leaves, but there are situations where a parent calls and says their child didn’t come home from the bus when it turned out to be one parent picked up the child and did not communicate with the other parent.
Other school districts have had issues with a child left on a bus or dropped off at the wrong bus stop.
“Just that sense of security is worth the money,” Elliott said. “I don’t think you can put a price on it.”