The DeKalb County Board of Education is considering the possibility of replacing cell phones on school buses with two way radios.
Technology Director Brad Mullinax and Transportation Supervisor Shane Cook say two way radios would be more reliable and cost effective than cell phones. Cook says around 70% of Tennessee county school systems are already using two way radios and 20% of them are looking into it.
Mullinax presented the proposal to the Board of Education Thursday night. \" Mr. Willoughby asked me toward the beginning of the school year to start to work on this, and to try and get some information regarding installation of a VHF repeater system for the transportation department. The reason for the system is to greatly improve the communications between the schools, the Transportation Director, and the school buses. We probably have about 70% of the county that may be covered by cell phones or maybe not. We have a lot of trouble with communications, getting in touch with school buses, and that type thing
We asked Wireless Solutions of Cookeville to work us up a proposal on a system. We now have a proposal from them but there's two or three steps we need to get approved in order to press forward with this. The first being a site. We have a site on Miller Road, the Genesco water tank, but we don't have formal approval from the City of Smithville. I think they will allow us to base our repeater there at no charge. Once that is done, Wireless Solutions has agreed to prepare the forms for us to obtain an FCC license. This is the next step involved. We will have to submit an application to the Federal Communications Commission to obtain a license for that particular site. This will take from sixty to ninety days. Once the license is obtained, then you can press forward, purchase the repeater, get the repeater on the site, and then over a period of time, you can progressively buy so many radios per year to go on your school buses. This is not something you would have to do all at one time.
Over the long haul I think this is going to save the county several dollars. You're not going to have recurring telephone charges on your cell phones anymore. With a two way radio system, when you purchase it, you own it. I think it would be a fantastic move. I think it would improve your safety. What we have also agreed to do as far as 911 is concerned is have this frequency that we obtain programmed into our radios at the 911 center and in the event there is an emergency situation, we could pick up on that over the air and go ahead and dispatch units accordingly. We could also put a base station at each school so that in the event somebody needed to get in touch with somebody on another school bus, they could radio the school or radio the transportation department so that contact could be made through those means. You can also have simplex frequencies programmed into those radios and they could talk from bus to bus if they are in close proximity. On those, if you're within 10 to 15 miles of a school bus, you don't necessarily have to go through a repeater system, you can go through a talk around channel. You're not going to have perfect coverage, there will be dead areas, but I think the dead areas will greatly be minimized by going with a two way radio system rather than cell phones.
Director of Schools Mark Willoughby says a new two way radio system could be phased in over a period of time. \" In our Transportation budget, we're going to have some money left over with some decisions we've made in transportation that Shane has implemented, so we'll have some savings. If we don't have enough savings to do everything in one year, we can do it over a two or three year period, if we need to.\"
The board took no action on the issue.