School bus cameras in Palm Beach County are failing to record, missing critical moments. A 10-month Consumer Watchdog investigation exposed the problem that is frustrating parents.
"Everything fell apart. It became a he said she said kind of thing once there was no video evidence," explained Boca dad Jack Mahoney.
Mahoney's son was beaten on the bus. Details only described on paper.
"I was having a hard time processing it because I expected there to be video and I was floored when there wasn't," explained Mahoney.
"Why did you want to see the video?" Strathman asked.
"Because that's where the truth is. If there's any doubt," Mahoney said.
Our 10-month Consumer Watchdog investigation found the school district did not put anyone in charge of inspecting the camera system.
"Then what did we get the cameras for?" questioned Mahoney.
AngelTrax has been the camera vendor since 2014. The district spent nearly a million dollars to install their cameras. They said the cameras need preventative maintenance just like the other components on the bus.
"We do offer preventative maintenance contracts at a rate of one or two time per year. In the case of PBC, as well as many other districts, they have the knowledge and expertise to manage their own systems to include troubleshooting. Our technical support staff, as well and our field engineers are always on call for assistance at no charge to the districts. PBC, as well as all districts, are always encouraged to take full advantage of this free service."
The district did not begin preventative maintenance on the buses until this fall. The cameras are now being checked once a month, but even that didn't help Mahoney. The video didn't record, and that incident happened after the new camera inspection program.
"What do you say to all the victims?" Strathman asked the superintendent.
"First of all I'll tell you we are not required by law to have a video on every bus. That's something we added in addition to," said Superintendent Dr. Robert Avossa.
"But you paid for it," Strathman said.
"We have. But not all buses have videos. Not all the buses are equipped with that video system," Avossa explained. "I know 23 percent of our fleet does not have cameras systems installed."
"Why not?" Strathman asked.
"Because we can't afford it," Avossa explained.
New buses have recently been brought in, but 150 don't have cameras.
"Why cant you send the buses back and get the cameras installed?" Strathman asked.
"Because we are short buses. I have dozens of buses sitting parked because they don't work anymore. I can't send the buses back. We don't have enough busses," Avossa said.
"So when will the cameras be installed?" Strathman asked.
"The cameras will be installed as they are brought in and we have the funding," Avossa explained.
Just days after our interview, an email to bus workers that the camera company would be installing cameras on the new buses over spring break.
They got the aftermarket camera from AngelTrax.
Moving forward, all new buses will have cameras installed at the factory rather than using an aftermarket vendor. Avossa said that will increase the reliability.
"This community for years, not just Palm Beach, but the state of Florida has not been funding public education," Avossa said.
"That's the reality," Strathman said.
"The reality is what it is. Then people need to accept we cannot continue to provide the level of service they expect," Avossa explained.
Even with money tight, Avossa is spending $300 a bus to upgrade to more durable hard drives that won't jostle and stop recording on bump buses. Those systems were installed over spring break as well.
AngelTrax did the installation. The company said in a prepared statement the solid state hard drives that the district is moving to have only been available at a reasonable cost for the last year.
"Due to the fact that SOLID STATE drives are not susceptible to vibration, heat or cold, makes them much more reliable in these harsh condition, it is highly recommended that all districts upgrade to SOLID STATE drives," the company wrote.
Palm Beach County School Board President, Chuck Shaw, said in a statement provided by the district, "“Our Superintendent is taking action to address all of the issues in the District’s Transportation Services department. I give him credit for being proactive, and know that he will keep the School Board updated.”