School district to roll out “Here Comes the Bus” app

Fort Madison School District Transportation Director Richard Hand explains the technology behind the district's new "Here Comes the Bus" app that is in test now. Photo by Chuck Vandenberg/PCC


FORT MADISON – The wheels on the bus go round and round, but now you’ll know when there getting close to you.

Not only will a new app that is being rolled out by the Fort Madison Community School District allow residents on district routes to see when the bus is going to arrive, it has a bunch of other bells and whistles, too.

Transportation Director Richard Hand outlined the program the district is testing from Synovia Solutions. The app will be able to be downloaded onto resident phones, ipads, etc and uses GPS technology to ping the buses location every three seconds.

Hand gave the presentation to the Fort Madison School board as part of Wednesday’s regular school board meeting at the district’s central office.

Hand said he’s still in the process of learning the program, but researched several companies and thinks he’s found the best fit for the district.

“It lets the parent know by an app on their phone when the bus will be at their student’s stop,” Hand told the board.

Hand said he can set the parameters to shoot a text to the parents when the bus is five minutes out.

“Instead of the student waiting out at the end of a long lane, they’ll get a text saying the bus is five minutes out. That’ll be really helpful for families that live clear out at the end of the routes.”

The app is a free download on cellphones or computers and residents will have to have a district code and password given out by the district to access information. Hand said that’s a security measure to keep those outside the district from knowing where buses are specifically.

He said messages can also be sent out if a bus breaks down letting families know the bus will be arriving later. Additionally, the system comes with dashboard mounted tablet scanners on each bus. Students will have a bus pass with a bar code on it and the student will be scanned on and off the bus. If the student is supposed to be on the bus, a green indicator light will activate, if the student is not on the right bus, a red light will display.

“Now we’ll have better control of our bus loads which should help us maybe cut a route or two down the road,” he said.

“The bus drivers are going to have to pay attention to the students scanning on and off. Parents will also get a notification when the student scans off and the app will show were they got off.”

He said all the buses are equipped with the scanners now and there is a spare set. The school district doesn’t own the equipment, it’s a lease agreement with Synovia and the school isn’t on the hook for maintenance.

He said the technology also has mechanical features that will alert the driver and Hand when there is a mechanical issue with the bus. He said it can also monitor speeds of buses so if he were to get a complaint on a driver, he can immediately pull up data that would verify or contradict driving behaviors.

Hand said the data is carried by Verizon and it is possible in some areas where a ping may not get registered or if the cell service is having issues it could drop the pings and lose track, but it would be very similar to cellphone service.

The original test showed 366 hits back to server on a test run to Houghton and back. Hand said he can see individual startups of buses, the diagnostic checks drivers must do on each start up and other information, that before, he had to manually audit.

“I can be a better manager with the drivers because it’s impossible to be out there when 19 routes start up. And if I am out there, we’re all going to do it exactly as were supposed to,” Hand said. “Now I don’t have to be out there, I can take a look at this every once in a while and say ‘Ok, we got a problem here, let’s make sure we’re doing this correctly so we can be safer. That’s what it’s all about.”

Superintendent Dr. Erin Slater said Hand has done a tremendous job in offering improvements that help the safety and security of students and provide information to parents. She said the project has been several years in the making.

In other action, the board:

• approved the 2019-20 school district fee schedule. Textbook/electronics fees will increase $6 for elementary, $13 for middle school and $10 at the high school. The district is eliminating the elementary and middle school $6 student planner fees.

• approved the district’s group insurance premium renewal which included a $45,000 increase in worker’s compensation premiums. In total, premiums will go up $56,000 effective July 1. The bump in workers compensation was due to a couple of recent accidents, district manager Sandy Elmore said.

• approved salary contracts, bargaining agreements and handbooks for all district staff.

• approved the final resolutions to refinance the districts sales tax bonds on the new middle school, which Elmore said could save the district about $1.2 million over the next 10 years. The bonds are also callable at anytime, so if the district comes into extra money they can pay off the bonds early.

• approved 2019-20 meal rates. All school lunches and milk will go up by .10 per meal. Preschool through 5th grade will be $2.45 per lunch. Sixth grade through 12th will be $2.70. Adult meals will be $3.85 and all milk will be .35 each. The district will be offering free breakfasts to all students.

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