MERRILLVILLE, Ind. — A new application that tracks attendance as students board and exit the school bus is expected to help an Indiana district recoup more funding while providing security benefits, according to the app's creator.
Kevin McGuire, director of instructional technology at Michigan City Area Schools, came up with the idea for the app — dubbed the Patron Attendance and Tracking Solution (PATS) — as a way to improve the district's Medicaid reimbursement process.
McGuire told SBF that to meet the federal government's data requirements on tracking special-needs students' bus ridership for Medicaid reimbursements, the district was using a "paper and pencil solution": Drivers had a clipboard on the bus, and they would check a box when a student got on board. The bus attendance information went to the transportation office, then to the special-ed office, which made it electronic and transferred it to an outside company.
After realizing that "there has to be a way to do that better," McGuire designed the PATS app and formed a new company, Preshus Cargo LLC.
With PATS, a tablet on the bus is preloaded with rider data based on the route. As students board or exit, bus personnel select the students' photos on the system, and the tracking information is uploaded to a district network.
McGuire said that Michigan City Area Schools expects the app to help the district increase its Medicaid reimbursements for transporting special-needs students. The district has already been able to gain more reimbursement money by changing the way it keeps attendance on its six special-needs buses.
The PATS app is not yet in full implementation on the six special-needs buses, but McGuire said that when the district gives the go-ahead, monitors on all of those buses will begin using it.
After fully implementing PATS, Michigan City Area Schools anticipates an increase of 20% in Medicaid reimbursements due to increased efficiency and accuracy.
The district also expects to get insurance discounts on the buses with the PATS system. McGuire said that because the app can show who was on the bus at a given time, it can help the insurance company mitigate the costs of false allegations — for example, parents falsely claiming that their student was on the bus during an accident.
Knowing who is on the bus at any given time is also a security benefit of the PATS app. The system can also inform drivers if a student is still on board at the end of a run. Another PATS feature is a built-in checklist for drivers' pre-trip inspection of the bus.
At Michigan City Area Schools, school bus monitors will perform the student attendance entries on the PATS tablet — Indiana regulations currently prohibit such devices from being mounted in front of the driver. But McGuire said that state legislation in the works would allow such devices (including navigation systems) to be mounted in front of the driver as long as the screen goes black when the vehicle is in drive.
The process of selecting students' photos on the tablet as they board or exit works well for smaller, rural-type stops, McGuire said, but not as well for urban stops where many students board at once. But there is another option for the attendance tracking.
"We can use an RFID [radio frequency identification] reader to take attendance if schools already have that solution in place," McGuire said. "In that case, students would scan their ID card when they get on or off the bus."
For more information about the PATS app, go here.