By Jean Lotus
The Forest Park school board unanimously shot down a proposal to equip district school bus stop-arms with traffic cameras at its meeting Feb. 13.
The board had tabled the traffic violation camera proposal from RedSpeed, Illinois, LLC at its January meeting. At that meeting board members said they needed "more data" about the district's problems with drivers who illegally skirt around stopped school buses. The board also requested data from the Lombard-based company about the usage of the cameras in other states.
Superintendent Louis Cavallo initially supplied an incident log to the board showing bus drivers reported 51 stop-arm violations within one week. The data showed the problem was significantly higher at Grant-White school during the morning rush hour on Randolph Street between 7:20 and 7:45 a.m. Data showed 44 drivers blew through the extended school bus stop sign in one week. Other violations took place twice or three times a week at the other schools, according to the data.
At Thursday's meeting, Cavallo said he wanted to show the board new data showing whether scofflaw drivers changed their behavior when police were visible. Cavallo said he requested a squad car from the Forest Park police to monitor the area around Grant-White during the morning drop off, but the district's request was not met.
"The police have limited resources," Cavallo told the board.
The RedSpeed contract had support from the Village of Forest Park. The Forest Park Village Council voted to sign on to a three-year contract with RedSpeed at its December 2013 board meeting.
But the contract required a separate approval by the school board, as well as an intergovernmental agreement between the two taxing bodies.
School board members were not convinced the traffic cameras and the $150 - $500 citations they generated, actually had any effect on the safety of students. Cavallo said in January the schools were, "not in the revenue business" when it came to generating traffic citations.
Board member Heather Cianciolo said at the January meeting her research showed stop-arm violations went down when buses had multiple stop arms and flashing headlights. She also said police stings deterred scofflaw drivers.
"This is a vendor's solution to provide a fine to those who have an infraction, but that's not safety," said board member Sean Blaylock at the time.
Board member Michael O'Connor said in January that he wondered, "if this is about a safety issue or just a money-maker." O'Connor is a police officer with the Forest Park police department.
The technology is brand new in Illinois and board members waited to vote until they got data about how well it worked in other states where stop-arm cameras have been installed.
It was that data, provided by RedSpeed, ironically, that made board member Eric Connor vote against the proposal. According to Connor, the data showed driver citation revenue kept up at a steady pace, months after districts installed the cameras.
"That shows it's not causing violations to go down, so [the cameras] are not having an effect on safety," Connor said.
Had the initiative passed, Forest Park would have been an early-adopter of the program. The Illinois legislature passed school bus stop-arm camera legislation just last May. Commissioner Tom Mannix said he was excited that Forest Park might be the first municipality in the state to install the bus cameras.
"People are going to know, when you come to Forest Park, if you drive around the school bus, you're going to get a ticket," Mannix said in December. "This, bottom line is about the safety of the kids," Mannix added.
Mannix and some other commissioners have a financial relationship to RedSpeed. The company made campaign contributions to Mannix, Commissioner Mark Hosty and Mayor Anthony Calderone, including a recent contribution of $750 to Forest Park PAC on Sept. 30, 2013. RedSpeed has provided red-light cameras at busy Forest Park intersections like Harlem Avenue and Roosevelt Road since 2008. The total amount contributed to Forest Park politicians since 2007 by RedSpeed is $2,000.
The Prospect Heights Public School District 23 also had a contract with RedSpeed on the school board agenda Feb. 12. But the board took the proposal off the agenda so the Prospect Heights village attorney could look it over, District 23 Superintendent Deb Wilson said.
See more school board coverage in Wednesday's Foret Park Review