One year ago, the Consumer Watchdog started documenting problems with Palm Beach County school bus cameras. We called our battle for records, "Document Road." We hit many roadblocks, and requested several different records to expose the problem. Each one revealed new records issues. We continued pushing as we heard from more parents.
"I was furious. I was like my son was strangled on the bus what?" Boca Raton parent, Jack Mahoney recalled. "I said well the camera is going to show us everything. Everything that happened. Then she dropped that bomb on us. I'm going to be straight with you. There's no video. Why? They are not really sure why the camera didn't work."
We tried to get maintenance records, emails, and incident reports to document the problem. While we had issues with each record, our biggest battle focused on the maintenance records.
The buses are inspected every 30 school days. The headlights, engine, tires, etc. are all checked. The information is public and we review it periodically. That's how we exposed bus breakdown issues two years ago.
So we tried to get the maintenance records for the cameras that are on buses. Our first request in May 2015, was denied for security reasons. We fought back and were told there were thousands of records. We waited and waited to see them. Finally, we found out that there were no records because the district never put anyone in charge of making sure the cameras worked.
Even though the district spent $1.5 million on two different camera systems in recent years, the mechanics were never told to inspect the cameras during routine maintenance.
That changed when Superintendent Dr. Robert Avossa arrived in the fall of 2015.
"There are no good excuses. When you make investments you need to make sure you are getting what the taxpayer deserves and in that case they were not reviewing that," Avossa explained.
At this point, we'd been asking questions about maintenance of bus cameras for months. Finally, mechanics began making sure the cameras worked.
At the end of 2015, we once again asked to see the maintenance records since the inspections were now routine. We were told no. Once again, security.
"As Superintendent, I have to balance this issue of transparency with the safety and security of our kids. My top priority is making sure our kids are safe," Avossa said. "I will work with staff to see what information we can provide you. I don't have anything to hide."
We never got those records by the time our story aired.
We kept pushing. The Palm Beach Post even wrote about our battle to get records.
Two months after we were promised more records, we are closer to our final destination -- maintenance records.
Initially, the district removed the key details related on the camera system inspection record. They removed the item that was inspected, comments about it, the bus number, and partial work order number that would identify where the bus is located. The reason -- security.
Our lawyer fought back, and after some back and forth we finally got the records with some of the information we need. The district released the part of the camera that's inspected, although a description about the panic light is still redacted. We already know what that description says because we have the original form, and it's inconsequential to our goal of finding out how often these cameras break.
Bus numbers are a bigger issue. The district will not provide these for security reasons. That makes it hard to show patterns with certain buses. We can get emails with bus numbers that have issues, but not the maintenance records.
At least we have something. It's a start. A big step forward in documenting Palm Beach County's school bus problems.
For the latest on what these records show, watch NewsChannel 5 at 6.