FAIRBANKS (AP) -- The state will be ending its payments for school bus safety monitors and video cameras after this school year.
The state only will reimburse school districts for costs associated with maintaining the minimum standards for school buses. Monitors and cameras are not among those minimums.
State school transportation administrator Joe Precourt said that policy was necessary because of legislative scrutiny and shrinking financial resources.
''In light of the last legislative session, and some of the information that came out there on the contracting, we are just looking very carefully at rate increases especially,'' Precourt told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. ''We have had a lot of high rate increases between contracts in recent years.''
That means no bells and whistles, Precourt said, and no monitors and video cameras.
''If a contractor wishes to put more than (the minimum standard) or a school district wished to put more than that (on a bus), that is fine.''
But the state won't be reimbursing anyone for those extras, he said.
Local transportation officials contend having monitors and cameras on school buses helps drivers maintain discipline and safety.
''That is what the monitors are there for, just to make sure a little kid down behind the seat isn't getting whomped on or having their lunch money stolen,'' said Fairbanks School District Transportation Coordinator Dennis Cook.
The Fairbanks School District said it would mean an extra $170,000 for the monitors and cameras, as well as some other items such as automatic tire chains and outdoor lights and public address systems that the state won't be underwriting next year.
Fairbanks School Board President Cynthia Henry said the school board will try to lobby lawmakers for more money.
''Ultimately, those funding decisions are made by the Legislature,'' Henry said. ''That will be the group of people that we will express our concerns to.''
Henry believes Fairbanks won't be alone.
Several other school districts around the state also use monitors and cameras on their buses, she said. If a district does its part in keeping contracts at affordable levels, then the state ought to reimburse it for the added costs, Henry said.
''What these monitors do is really prevent and intervene in bus misbehavior,'' Henry said. ''Without the monitors, that escalates to violence.''
Drivers should be paying attention to the road, she said. ''No driver can be expected to keep the bus in the right lane on an icy road and monitor 50- or 60 students who are getting rowdy.''
The state's Precourt said the decision is equitable. The state doesn't have enough money to pay for monitors on every bus in the state, he said.
''We have to be fair to all districts,'' Precourt said. ''How can we say yes to Fairbanks ... and not say yes to every other district that might want cameras on their buses or monitors on their buses.''
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