Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

February 12, 2013

KCS plans Internet on school buses

District spending nearly $200,000 on bus upgrades

By Lindsey Ziliak
Tribune staff writer

— Kokomo-Center Schools will install wireless Internet on all of its 65 buses by the end of this year — perhaps making it the first district in the state to do so, officials said.

The Internet access is part of nearly $200,000 in transportation upgrades planned. Those plans also call for a GPS tracking system in all buses.

It’s a plan officials have been considering for more than a year. And Superintendent Jeff Hauswald believed now was the time to implement it, said Mike Wade, director of operations for the district.

“He had a great vision to provide more opportunities for our students,” Wade said.

Students likely will be excited to have Internet access on the buses, he said.

Officials said the service would be a big help to students involved in after-school activities like marching band, debate, robotics, academic teams and athletics. Those students will now have Internet access in the evenings and on weekends as they travel to and from different competitive events.

“This is huge,” Wade said. “I remember as a coach, driving two and a half hours to Richmond. If I could have done my work, that would have been great.”

Internet on buses is coming at a perfect time.

In three years, every high school student will have a laptop under the district’s one-to-one technology plan, said Dave Barnes, director of communications for the district.

Some homework just needs to be done on a computer, he said. It’s easy for kids to do math or science homework on the buses now, but harder to finish English assignments.

“If I have an essay or a paper to do, I need a computer for that,” he said.

While the students might be excited about the Internet access, it’s the parents and bus drivers who likely will benefit from the GPS technology.

Wade said he saw the technology at work in a Texas school district. He sat in front of a computer screen at the transportation department there and watched as tiny buses moved along a map.

The green buses were ones in motion, and red ones were stopped.

He could see exactly where each bus was on its route, how fast the drivers were traveling and exactly what the driver was doing at that moment.

The program even keeps logs of when drivers are at each bus stop.

That technology will help Kokomo’s transportation department run more efficiently, said Larry Johnson, transportation supervisor for the district.

“This GPS tracking system will enable our transportation department to handle parent concerns in a timely, more efficient manner,” Johnson said. “It will prove invaluable when answering parent questions concerning bus estimated time of arrival and present location.”

The GPS technology will cost $60,000 initially and $25,000 a year after that.

Barnes said the Internet service has a higher up-front cost. It will cost the district $125,000 a year to install.

But yearly service rates are $5,000, and 70 percent of that cost can be recovered through an Indiana Department of Education reimbursement program, Barnes said.

Wade said it’s worth it.

“The Wi-Fi is great,” he said. “It gives you more options.”

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