Polk County Public Schools will soon upgrade its fleet of more than 600 buses and other support vehicles with new radios to improve routine and emergency communications.
School Board members voted Tuesday night to move forward with the project, which is expected to be complete for the 2019-2020 school year.
The agreement with Motorola Solutions, Inc. will install 800 MHz emergency communication radios in school buses that are directly connected into the county’s emergency radio system.
Once in place, bus drivers and attendants will no longer need to use cell phones to call 911, or radio to the district’s bus dispatchers to call for help.
Instead, bus drivers or attendants can press a button and immediately have contact with the county’s 911 system and emergency services. The upgrade will also make it possible to immediately identify which bus is transmitting, and its location.
“This upgrade will greatly enhance the safety of our more than 50,000 students who ride our buses each day,” said Rob Davis, assistant superintendent of support services.
Superintendent Jacqueline M. Byrd described buses as “mobile classrooms” that must have the same ability to communicate in an emergency situation as a school.
“We know safety is important to us and our school buildings” Byrd said. “But our buses also represent an area where we have to make sure our children are safe.”
The project will cost more than $6 million plus interest and yearly service fees. The district’s finance department is still exploring various options to pay for the upgrade, including whether funding from the recently renewed half-cent sales tax could be utilized.
Transportation staff members estimate entering into an agreement directly with Motorola to also handle user fees could potentially save nearly $680,575 on reoccurring costs over the course of seven years, instead of paying user fees to the Board of County Commissioners.
This estimate is based on the cost of paying user fees for each new radio to cover software upgrades and other radio maintenance costs ($1,159,200) versus entering into a seven-year system maintenance agreement with Motorola ($478,625).