A new bus-tracking program in the Decorah School District isn't going as smoothly as anticipated.

At a recent meeting of the Decorah School Board, District Director of Technology Kurt DeVore and District Transportation Manager Jim Samuelson updated the Board on their concerns.

DeVore said every student has a card which is swiped each time a student gets on or off a bus, but the cards don't always work the way they should.

"We're starting to see card failures, and the company has asked us to send those back," said DeVore.

When Board President Ron Fadness asked if the cards are getting damaged, Samuelson said the cards are "not holding up."

"If the cards are holding up, the kindergarten through fourth graders are good about doing the scanning. The middle school-age kids don't do as well," he said.

While DeVore said he is not sure of the cards' failure rate, Samuelson said in the first few days of the program, he had two drivers that were reporting a 40-50 percent failure rate.

"Temperature does make a difference and not all buses react the same," he said.

He said some readers can scan a card from four to six inches away, but some cards have to be rubbed directly on the reader.

The cost

Last year, in an effort to increase student security/tracking, the District paid Edulog (Education Logistics), $33,181 for the system. That includes student tracker RFID (radio-frequency identification) units, a software card management device for the system, $21,875; installation and units for 28 buses, $7,610, and license maintenance/support of $3,696, which is an annual fee.

Samuelson said an additional cost he's noticed is the cost of replacing more bus batteries.

"We've done eight of them so far," said Samuelson, adding the buses used on a regular basis are not the issue - it's the sports buses that aren't used on a regular basis.

"Even when they're not running, there's a draw because of the GPS (global positioning) system in it," said Samuelson.

Board Member Brian Petersburg next asked Samuelson if he's seen "any real big benefits" to using the GPS and knowing where the buses are.

"The GPS part has worked much better than the card-reading part," he said, adding the GPS is a tool for logging mileage, the route, pickup times and speeds.

Petersburg added the reason the District bought the system was "to know where are kids are."

When Petersburg asked "Where do we go from here?" DeVore said Edulog offers a different type of card that may be more reliable.

He also said he is looking forward to the feedback he receives from Edulog after they have reviewed the defunct cards he has returned to the company.

DeVore said Edulog has been extremely helpful to deal with thus far.

Tech challenges

In a related technology matter, the Board heard from members of the District tech committee regarding some issues with getting the teachers' new televisions and SmartBoards up and running.

According to DeVore, the District's challenge is the fact many wireless access points have reached the end of their life and are ready to be replaced.

Members of the tech committee lamented that while it's great to have access to current technology, several teachers have expressed frustration with the fact it sometimes does not function properly.

DeVore said the District is in the process of upgrading its wireless access points and this should address many of the problems.