YORKVILLE – About a dozen residents and community leaders came to the Yorkville School District 115's discussion about bus stop arm violations on Monday, Aug. 5 at the school district's Center for Innovation, 604B Center Parkway.
Among some of the community leaders that attended the discussion included Kendall County State’s Attorney Eric Weis, Yorkville Alderman Chris Funkhouser and Alderwoman Jackie Milschewski, Kendall County Highway Engineer Fran Klaas, anticipated soon-to-be Yorkville Police Chief Jim Jensen, current Yorkville police officials and representatives of Septran, the school bus company that services the district.
Lisa Banovetz, director of business services for the school district, said the district hosted the discussion because it's an important topic to them.
"We're trying to reduce, if not eliminate, the stop arm violations," Banovetz said.
Andy Reasor, general manager for Septran, said bus drivers try to catch everyone that breaks the law as much as they can. He said the company gets great support from everyone that becomes involved in the reporting process, including the school district and local police.
Reasor said all involved groups look at the violations data each month. He said one of the things that they look at includes seeing which drivers wrote down a lot of license plate numbers and look at switching cameras from busses that might not be seeing a lot of violations to the busses that are.
Reasor said there are more than 3,100 bus stops per day, which amounts to about 551,174 where the school bus doors open and close during the school year. Even if the district got more stop arm cameras for their buses, he said, he's not sure if the company would have the manpower to correctly and seriously enforce those violations.
"It is a massive, massive operation, so we obviously can't get every single stop," Reasor said.
Reasor said there is one stop that accounts for 30% of the violations that Septran sees, with that stop being located at Route 47 and Kennedy Road. He said law enforcement has been great at being at that stop in particular.
"But that's one stop," Reasor said. " ... As Septran, we try."
Yorkville Police Chief Rich Hart said the police department already tries to send law enforcement to target areas where there have been multiple violations. He said it's a high priority for police, but there are a lot of school bus stops in town.
Hart said there's currently a societal issue when it comes to traffic enforcement, where people don't seem to care that they're breaking the law and police presence doesn't deter the behavior. He said the police department is continuing their education and awareness campaigns, but police are struggling in general with traffic enforcement.
"Just go drive down Route 47 – it's a drag strip," Hart said. "We have squad cars to pull people over and they speed past our squad cars."
Lynn Burks, the president of the school district's Board of Education, said school officials wanted to talk to officials that are well-versed in the issue so the school district can see if there's a better way to decrease bus violations before the district explores more expensive options, like buying more bus cameras. She said part of the discussion is to figure out a way for these agencies to work smarter together.
"Because at the end of the day, we can spend all of the money we want, but these stops aren't safe for these kids," Burks said.
Weis said it's a tedious process to attempt to convict someone who blew through the bus stop arm, with the bus driver having the most difficult job. Not only do the bus drivers have to safely drive a bus full of children and make sure children are walking safely in a crosswalk, he said, but they're the ones that also are expected to get the license plate, make and model of a car that's going 35 mph, along with the description of the driver.
“So obviously, it's a very stressful situation they're under,” Weis said.
While it might be useful for something like a murder investigation or violent crime, Weis said, law enforcement also has limited resources to track down only partial license plates of violators that are taken down by bus drivers – and that partial plate might not even be traced back to someone who would fit the driver's description or even the right description of the vehicle. He said whatever cases are able to survive those initial steps in the process are the cases that end up getting charged, and video surveillance is a useful tool for prosecutors to prove who the driver was that violated the stop arm beyond a reasonable doubt.
"Those cases never even see a court room," Weis said. "They never go past the identification of that seen number on that plate."
Weis said cell phone video recording from bystanders could also be a useful tool for convicting violators, since that kind of footage is used in court all the time. In the meantime, he said, the more leaders can educate the public and prevent them from going through the arm in the first place, the better off the community will be.
"Because once the person goes through the stop arm and hits the kid, it doesn't really matter what we're prosecuting them for – the damage is already done," Weis said.
Yorkville resident Alicia Lingane has two children in the Yorkville School District 115 system, one child going into third grade and the other going into first grade. She said she attended the discussion because she wanted to know more about the issues the district has been facing with bus stop arm violations.
Lingane said she felt that she got most of her questions about the multi-layered issue answered. She said she thinks it's something that still needs to be talked about, whether that's among school officials or even with fellow parents of children within the district.
“It's not a problem just for the board of education or the school district,” Lingane said. "It's a problem that the entire community needs to solve."