TH sees way to restore radio contact with buses

CRARYVILLE—Richard Viebrock, supervisor of transportation for the Taconic Hills Central School District, has proposed that the district adopt a digital radio communications system for its buses.

At the November 19 meeting of the school board, Mr. Viebrock called the current state of the district’s bus radios “a safety and security issue.” Mr. Viebrock says that a 2012 federal mandate required the district to change the bandwidth it used for radio communication to free up space for medical, fire and law enforcement first responders. The bandwidth switch cost $70,000 for equipment upgrades—and caused the school district’s radio coverage to drop from about 70% to 50% of the district.

Right now, district bus drivers have almost no radio coverage west of the Taconic State Parkway. “More and more drivers are resorting to pulling over to the side of the road and using their cell phone,” said Mr. Viebrock.

The current system operates through a radio tower on Harvey Mountain in Austerlitz. At one point, Mr. Viebrock thought that the district could boost coverage by adding a second transmission device—a repeater—to the communications tower on Blue Hill in Livingston. Mr. Viebrock said that he did a test from the site, and “it worked great.”

But the Blue Hill tower has been the center of a recent dispute. The tower is on property owned by Eger Brothers farm and can be seen from the Olana State Historic Site. Mark Eger, the owner of the property, had applied to build a larger tower. Scenic Hudson—an environmental advocacy group—and the Olana Partnership went to court to stop the project, and that court battle is still unresolved.

There is no room on the current tower for the Taconic Hills repeater, and with no end in sight to the legal battles over Blue Hill, Mr. Viebrock has been exploring other options for expanding the district’s radio coverage.

Mr. Viebrock says that he has found a company that offers a digital system that will provide 95% radio coverage. The system uses four towers: in Millerton, Beacon, Esopus and Austerlitz. He says the digital system has additional advantages over the current system, which include G.P.S. tracking and the fact that nobody outside the system will be able to scan the digital radios.

The district can pay for the digital system on a month-to-month basis with no contract. The fleet of radios will require a $6,000 upgrade for new circuit boards, which is already in the transportation budget. The $1,200 per month it will cost to use the system is not.

Business Manager Cybil Howard said that they would have to find the money somewhere else.

“If I get a head-nod, I’ll be taking all the radios to Albany at the Christmas Holiday,” Mr. Viebrock said. Mr. Viebrock got the head nod, and the program will proceed. The upgraded radios will be ready to use by January 1.

Also at last week’s meeting the board heard from Joe Argus during the public comment segment of the meeting. Mr. Argus is employed in the school’s Buildings and Grounds Department and is a soccer coach. Mr. Argus took issue with a portion of his department’s most recent contract. If employees take sick time on days contiguous to a holiday break, they will not be paid for the holiday. “I was told that…. we would only go after the habitual abusers. What was put on that paper and what was said in this room were two different things. I honestly don’t want to go to Albany [with a complaint]. I’d like to handle this in-house,” he told the board.

Other items before the board:

  • The district could receive up to $900,000 as part of the state Smart Schools Allocation Bond adopted in the November elections
  • The district has launched its Facebook page
  • Board members expressed approval for a public hearing on the Alternative Veterans Tax Exemption. No date was set and the board has until March to discuss the issue
  • The board is contracting with an outside company to make sure Taconic Hills complies with a provision of the Affordable Care Act requiring that the district provide affordable health insurance plans to its employees. Failure to comply could result in expensive penalties
  • Parent Jeannie Slater lamented classes that require Internet access. “We never had it when we were kids,” said Ms. Slater. “We used books.” Board President Keivn Maisenbacher suggested that she speak to the teachers of the classes in question and to the building principal
  • Three students requested that the board allow an afterschool club based on strategy games, including board games, Magic the Gathering, and Dungeons and Dragons. The proposal received verbal support from several members of the board.
  • Nancy Rutter discussed the Community Read program. She hopes to enlist 280 students from grades eight through 12 to read a book about World War I.
  • Victor Churchill, an accountant from Sickler, Torchia, Allen & Churchill, reported on the school district’s audit. “The overall sense of the audit report has been a clean opinion,” said Mr. Churchill. “You got an ‘A’”
  • Twelve Chinese students and three adult chaperones will be visiting the school from March 1 through March 6. The district is still looking for a few host homes
  • Jacy Good, whose parents were killed by a distracted driver, will be speaking about the dangers of distracted driving at the school on December 9.

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