Forest Park is one step closer to installing cameras on school buses to catch drivers who violate the law by passing a stopped bus. On the agenda for Thursday’s Forest Park Elementary School District 91 school board meeting is a contract between the district and RedSpeed Illinois LLC to install stop-arm cameras to district school buses. The contract is part of a three-way agreement between the village of Forest Park, D91 and Redspeed. The village approved a three-year contract with RedSpeed at the Dec. 16 village council meeting.
A new law passed in May would fine drivers who illegally pass a stopped school bus with stop-arm extended, $150 for the first violation and $500 for subsequent violations. After fees to maintain the cameras and process the violations, the law states that RedSpeed would pay half of the revenue generated to school districts and half to Forest Park.
According to Superintendent Lou Cavallo, the village approached him in October about the service. Cavallo said the district was not interested in collecting money from traffic violations and would return any revenue to the village.
“We are not in the revenue-generating or code-enforcement business,” he said in December. “We are only interested in the safety of the children.”
RedSpeed currently provides the red-light cameras at Forest Park’s busiest intersections. The company is also a campaign contributor to the campaigns of both Mayor Anthony Calderone and the Forest Park PAC that is a joint PAC for Calderone and sitting commissioners Tom Mannix and Mark Hosty. All told, the traffic camera company has donated $2,000 to sitting Forest Park commissioners.
Are school bus stop-sign violations a problem in Forest Park school buses? Cavallo said in December he heard from one driver who counted six in one day. Forest Park police have been ticketing more drivers for running the school bus stop signs than in previous years. In 2011, village police issued two moving violations for bus stop-arm violations. In 2012 one ticket was issued. In 2013, police issued six, said Forest Park Deputy Chief Tom Aftanas.
The school bus stop-arm extends into traffic going both ways when the bus doors are open and children are entering or exiting the bus. The stop signs have flashing red lights.
The perpendicular stop sign is helpful, especially in rural areas, where children may be crossing the street to reach the bus.
D91 buses largely travel from school to school, said board member Eric Connor. This means they pick up and deliver “on the curbside,” Connor said. One bus travels to student homes to drop off and pick up special education students.
Connor said the board and superintendent agreed that more data was needed to find out if stop-arm cameras actually changed driver behavior.
“We’re a data-driven district, and that’s how we make our decisions,” Connor said.
“We are not concerned at all with revenue generating but child safety,” Connor continued. He said the board had asked for this data from RedSpeed, but he had not seen any yet.
“We want to see if their data shows these cameras reduce incidents over time. To my knowledge they haven’t produced any data or documents on this issue.”
Connor said he’d be willing to “vote no or table the contract,” until the data was presented.
As for the perception of a conflict of interest, Connor said, “The district is not seeking revenue and not expending revenues [on this contract].”
“There’d be no reason to change [vendor] and no reason not to change. It doesn’t make any difference to the school district; we’re not in it for revenue.”
Board member Sean Blaylock said he had enough data to vote on the issue.
“I’m not got going to say how I’ll vote now,” Blaylock said.
“The information has been presented in a straightforward way. It’s a safety issue, not a revenue-generating issue.”
“I haven’t gotten any information that would keep me from voting on that item,” Blaylock said.
Meanwhile, will parents complain at Thursday’s board meeting about the school district being open during the bitter cold on Monday and Tuesday? Board members said it was likely there might be some new voices at the meeting, if parents came to complain.
“We always look forward to seeing people at the meetings,” said board member Heather Cianciolo. “I sent my kids to school Tuesday and we walked, thanks to Public Works.”
“I’m always excited to see anyone from the community,” Blaylock said, noting the meetings are not usually well attended. “It’s a business meeting, but we give people the opportunity to provide input outside of the proverbial meeting in the grocery store.”
The school board meeting takes place at 7:30 p.m. at the District 91 Administration Building, 424 Desplaines Ave.