Interim Education Committee discusses information management, suicide prevention, bus safety

By Gregory Nickerson
— June 4, 2013

On Monday the Joint Interim Education Committee met in Casper for its first meeting following the 2013 legislative session.

The committee first discussed an audit of the Wyoming Department of Education’s Information Management unit, which handles data collection for the agency.

Consultants from RTI International presented results of a rapid audit conducted on the Information Management division. The report found that the unit had numerous organizational challenges that prevented it from accomplishing its reporting duties on time. Heavy attrition within the unit has led to some workers managing responsibilities normally shared by multiple employees.

The consultants recommended a realignment of organizational strategy and structure within Information Management, and the hiring of a Services Manager, Data Architect, and Statistician as soon as possible. The Joint Committee asked legislative staff to draft a memo for Gov. Mead requesting that Information Management positions not be consolidated into the state’s new Department of Enterprise Technology Services until the Department of Education had time to complete a full realignment of the unit.

Following the RTI presentation, the committee discussed consolidation of reporting requirements to minimize data collection burdens on local school districts. Currently school districts file over 60 reports with the Department of Education each year.

In the next agenda item, the committee heard from Attorney General Gregory Phillips and Department of Family Services head Steve Corsi regarding drafting of a bill to require teachers to complete two hours of suicide prevention training each year. The committee moved to draft a bill using language modeled after the Jason Flatt Act.  Suicide prevention training could be completed by teachers on their own time. Online materials would be provided for free by the Jason Flatt Foundation, through and there would be flexibility over what curriculum could be used.

Following an adjournment for lunch, the committee heard information relating to school bus safety. Fremont County School District #6 Superintendent Diana Clapp spoke about the risks of school bus “drive-bys”, in which a motorist illegally passes a bus that is stopped.

In December 2011, Mikayla Strahle, an eleven-year-old student, was killed by a driver who passed a stopped school bus in Fremont County. The group presented information gathered by Stephin Little Shield from Wind River High School about school bus safety laws in other states. Several middle school students from the district who were friends of Mikayla Strahle were in attendance.

The group called for drug testing of school bus drivers involved in accidents, similar to procedures for holders of Commercial Drivers Licenses. They also asked the committee to consider prosecuting school bus drive-bys with penalties similar to DUI convictions.

The group also showed footage from a pilot project to place video cameras on school buses within the district. The cameras capture license plates numbers and vehicle descriptions that can be used in issuing “drive-by” citations. In Fremont County District #6, at least one citation has already been issued using video footage of a “fly-by.”

Each year, the state collects information on how many cars illegally pass buses. In a one-day survey conducted in February,  bus drivers across the state counted 115 school bus “fly-bys” in the morning, 28 in the afternoon, and  154 in the evening.

When extrapolated across all of Wyoming for the 170-day school year, that corresponds to 20,125 illegal passes in morning, 4,900 in the afternoon, and 26,950 in the evening, annually.

“We could collect enough money [in fines] in one year to pay for these cameras. That’s kind of staggering,” said, Rep. Matt Teeters (R-Lingle). The collected money would go to the School Foundation Program.

Currently the state reimburses local districts that buy internal cameras for monitoring passengers on the bus. So far there are 742 internal cameras across the state.

Meanwhile, districts have just begun to install external cameras to monitor outside traffic.  Six buses in Fremont County and two in Evanston have installed external cameras. Motion detector cameras have also been used in Converse County, Natrona County, Campbell County, and other parts of the state.

In one month, cameras on Converse County buses provided evidence used in issuing 18 citations, which resulted in convictions 100 percent of the time. In April, the same cameras caught 45 violations. Convictions are rare without visual evidence.

Department of Education officials estimated it could cost between $1.65 million and $3 million to install external cameras on all 1,500 school buses in Wyoming.

— Gregory Nickerson is the government and policy reporter for WyoFile. He writes the Capitol Beat blog. Contact him at greg@wyofile.com.
 
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Published on June 3, 2013

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