St. Petersburg Times
 tampabaycom
tampabay.com
Print storySubscribe to the Times

Board: Use prints to track kids

The district wants to identify students on school buses by their fingerprints.

By THOMAS C. TOBIN
Published March 10, 2004

LARGO - Assured that student privacy would be protected, the Pinellas School Board Tuesday approved a $2.26-million system to use childrens' fingerprints to track their movements on and off school buses.

A division of Laidlaw International, Inc., an Illinois-based transit giant that owns Greyhound, was awarded the contract to outfit the school district's 750 buses with electronic devices that will identify individual students by their fingerprints beginning next fall.

The purpose of the program is to ensure students get on the right bus and get off at the right stop.

When the idea first was raised last month, some parents and civil liberties groups said the proposal had a Big Brother quality that might threaten student privacy.

No one at Tuesday's meeting complained about privacy issues, but board members Nancy Bostock and Mary Russell voiced concern about how the issue appeared on the agenda. It was listed on the consent agenda with many other smaller purchases.

"It really represents much more than a simple purchase," Bostock said. "This is a significant policy change."

But district transportation director Terry Palmer said privacy concerns for students are unfounded because the system does "not fingerprint them in a classic sense."

It identifies enough points on a fingerprint to create a binary code unique to each student, he said. It does not create a visual image of a print and the district will not have the ability to produce such an image or reproduce the binary code, he said.

"Even if somebody were to ask the district for it, we could not give it to them, even if we wanted to," Palmer said.

The information also will be protected by multiple passwords. Palmer said the district already handles a large amount of private information on students and could handle the new information "with absolutely no problem."

Families who still feel uncomfortable with the system can elect not to have their children participate, but district officials believe the vast majority will take part.

The system, which uses Global Positioning System technology to track the buses, will prevent students from getting on the wrong buses and allow the district to track where they are on the way to and from school.

It also will help the district monitor drivers and investigate claims of speeding and unsafe driving.

The district will pay for the system using savings from construction and renovation projects, some of them dating several years back. Officials also said keeping better track of buses and bus drivers will allow the district to streamline routes and trim minutes off bus drivers' days. All told, district officials estimate that between $500,000 and $900,000 can be saved each year in efficiencies.

In other business, the school board decided to revisit a property tax referendum that it had recently decided to postpone.

After hearing from frustrated teachers, School Board members informally agreed to reconsider scheduling a ballot proposal for raising property taxes by about $1 for every $1,000 of taxable value in November's general election.

The much-debated ballot measure would raise $50-million a year for four years, and board members have discussed the possibility of spending most of it to bring teacher salaries up to the national average.

Only a week ago, board members concluded that a November election would leave too little time to mount a proper public information campaign and talked about trying again in March.

The School Board agreed to schedule an emergency workshop after hearing from the Faculty Representative Council of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association, though no date was set.

[Last modified March 10, 2004, 02:05:34]


Tampa Bay today

  • Board: Use prints to track kids
  • Commission frowns on homes near landfill
  • Angry e-mail leads to penalty
  • Billiris takes reins in Tarpon Springs
  • Body of teen boy found under bridge
  • Center helps ease the pain
  • Library merger strongly opposed
  • Political newcomer elected to council
  • Tornadoes feel right at home in semifinals
  • Troubled club site goes to college
  • Upgraded Keene Road opens to traffic
  • Voters reject key charter changes in Clearwater
  • Board still waiting on list of finalists
  • Letters to the Editor: More positive change ahead for Safety Harbor
  • Bus driver: Students refused to leave gator
  • Taxes for education win again
  • Officials: Anklets will deter abuse
  • Primary draws few voters to polls

  • Obituary
  • Alec Peterson, civic and business leader
  • Back to Top

    © 2006 • All Rights Reserved • Tampa Bay Times
    490 First Avenue South • St. Petersburg, FL 33701 • 727-893-8111