School bus records show problems with cameras

Posted at 7:39 PM, Jun 02, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-02 19:39:14-04

School bus cameras capture critical moments.

"That's where the truth is if there's any doubt," explained dad Jack Mahoney.

But the truth is, Palm Beach County Schools never made sure the cameras worked when needed most.

"I was furious. I was like my son was strangled on the bus? What?" Mahoney said. "I said well the camera is going to show us everything that happened. We are going to resolve this now find out what happened."

However, when Mahoney asked to see the video he got another surprise.

"Then she dropped that bomb on us. I'm going to be straight with you there's no video," Mahoney said of that conversation. "I think the blood must have gone out of my face. I just almost fell over."

Frustrated parents from Boca Raton to Wellington asked the Consumer Watchdog for help.

"Everything fell apart. It became a he said he said kind of thing once there was no video evidence," explained Mahoney.

"Nobody can tell me how my son got a puncture wound on his head," explained Victoria Valderamma. "How can you not have cameras working you have small children on your bus?"

We wanted to know how often the cameras don't work. That question took a year to answer.

"Why can't we get the data with the cameras?" Strathman asked the Superintendent.

"One of the things we always struggle with in the public sector is what do you allow individuals to take a look at when there are safety concerns that are brought forward," Superintendent Dr. Robert Avossa said. "I will work with staff to see what we can provide you. I don't have anything to hide. The reality is I'll be the first to tell you we have problems."

We documented our problems getting records to expose this problem in our online series, Document Road.

Since we exposed problems with the cameras two months ago, our investigation and document battles made headlines on The Palm Beach Post's website.

Finally, with the help of our lawyer, we got the records.

The records show us what mechanics see when they check the cameras monthly. The district chose to give us inspections for November. While we received just shy of 400 bus inspection records, the district regularly tells us there are over 600 buses on the road. When asked about that, we were told there were fewer inspections that month because of the Thanksgiving holiday.

The records we obtained do not include bus numbers or work order numbers. That information was removed for security reasons. That makes it difficult for us to show trends with buses.

With the records we were provided, we found 10 camera issues or about 2-percent of the buses inspected that month.

"Even that is not going to be 100% apparent that they work or don't work. You have to be able to check it. It could be after you check it day one 15 or 20 days later it breaks and you don't know that it's been broken because you only check once a month," Avossa told us during our earlier interview.

And that's true. So we also asked for emails to fill in what happens between monthly inspections.

During a random week in March, we received emails showing 11 camera problems. At least one per day. There were technical issues, cameras not working, and video that didn't record.

The district based its estimation on how often cameras break on the number of requests for video that can't be fulfilled.

"On average we are seeing about 10% of them broken," Avossa told us previously.

No matter the number, one time is too many, for parents impacted by the broken cameras.

"If we purchase these systems, make sure they are working," Mahoney said.

That's why Avossa is making another change. All new camera purchases will be installed at the factory to increase the chance they work when there's a problem on a child's bus.

For the latest consumer issues, follow Jenn on Facebook and Twitter.