Contract amended for controversial school bus camera program

Contract amended for controversial school bus camera program

New agreement says county will receive 40% of fine revenue

| Published:
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This story was updated at 1:40 p.m. on Monday to clarify which county agency receives fine revenue under the amended bus camera contract.

An updated contract about the Montgomery County Public Schools’ bus camera program outlines an agreement that lets the county receive 40% of fine revenue collected when drivers pass stopped buses.

In 2016, MCPS and the county police department entered into an agreement with Force Multiplier Solutions in which the company would install cameras on each of the school district’s 1,382 buses. The installation was completed in September 2019, according to school board documents.

The cameras’ primary purpose is to capture video of vehicles that pass school buses that have their stop-arms extended and flashing lights activated while picking up or dropping off students.

Each time a violation occurs — approximately 800 to 1,200 times each day in Montgomery County — drivers are subject to a $250 fine. More than 140,000 citations have been issued in Montgomery County for passing stopped buses since October 2016, according to MCPS.

The original contract with Force Multiplier said the company would install the cameras at no cost to the school district and retain all fine money until the cost of installing the cameras was offset.

The initiative, however, has been scrutinized by community members and county officials after the camera company’s CEO and other affiliates were convicted in Texas of taking and offering bribes associated with the program.

In 2018, Force Multiplier CEO Robert Leonard, Dallas County Schools Superintendent Rick Sorells and Dallas Mayor Dwaine Caraway all pleaded guilty to crimes involving bribes and kickbacks to public officials in exchange for “favorable actions furthering [Force Multiplier’s] local business interests,” according to a Montgomery County report. The conspiracy led to the Dallas County School District’s bankruptcy.

When the investigation into Force Multiplier unfolded in 2017, MCPS signed an amended contract transferring the company’s duties to a company named BusPatrol America. Two years remain in the existing contract.

The bus camera program has generated more than $21.4 million from ticket fines, according to county officials. The original contract says MCPS and the bus company would enter into a revenue-sharing agreement after generating about $19 million from ticket fines — the cost of installing the cameras on MCPS’s 1,300 buses.

A county Office of Legislative Oversight report in July questioned why there was not yet a revenue sharing agreement between the two entities.

MCPS officials at the time said they had been negotiating with Bus Patrol for “several months.”

The new MCPS contract, approved by the school board on Monday, says Bus Patrol will pay a “lump sum payment” of approximately $1.6 million that MCPS was entitled to in revenue sharing prior to Sept. 1 and to defray “any costs it may have incurred in connection with the School Bus Safety Camera Program prior to that date.”

Forty percent of all fines collected will go into the county’s general fund, and Bus Patrol will receive 60%, the updated contract says.

Bus Patrol also agreed to invest up to $25,000 from its share of revenue to support public education and outreach activities about the program.

If MCPS purchases additional buses that need to be outfitted with cameras, the cost will be taken from the county’s share of fine revenue, according to the contract.

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com

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