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Cameras may be mounted soon on the outside of St. Mary’s school buses to catch motorists illegally passing the buses as they stop to pick up or drop off students.

It is a growing problem, school and elected officials said this week.

The state legislature made such cameras legal, assuming local jurisdictions give approval, and Sen. Roy Dyson during a legislative breakfast Monday with school board members and administrators asked if they would consider adding them.

“Some of the buses, I think, do need them,” Dyson (D-St. Mary’s, Calvert, Charles) said, based on his observations and stories he hears from county constituents.

“We’re moving forward with that,” Superintendent Michael Martirano said.

He said he has talked with St. Mary’s Sheriff Tim Cameron (R) about the initiative, which would involve taking photos of cars that pass when a bus’ red stop sign and red blinking lights are activated. The sheriff included the program in his budget for fiscal year 2014, and both the law enforcement and school officials are hoping the county commissioners give their blessing.

A private company would pay for the cameras and monitor footage remotely, Brad Clements, deputy superintendent of schools and operations, said. The company would send footage of possible violations to the sheriff’s office, which in turn would issue tickets if warranted. The company providing the cameras would get a cut of the fines collected, Clements said.

Cameras could begin showing up on the outside of buses as early as next school year, Clements said, if the county commissioners approve the program. Martirano and Cameron plan to present the request to the commissioners at an upcoming meeting.

“Anything that we value we always put security on it,” Del. Anthony J. O’Donnell (R-Calvert, St. Mary’s) said earlier during the breakfast as talks focused on school security. He speculated that schools should receive bipartisan support to increase security measures, including upgrading locks to interior and exterior doors.

However, he added, “Many of us won’t support some of the other initiatives coming down the pike, including gun control.”

Dyson questioned why St. Mary’s public schools’ new teacher evaluation model was recently rejected by the state. The school system was told last week that its pilot evaluation system did not meet all requirements and should be revised.

St. Mary’s model uses a variety of factors, including counting a classroom’s Maryland School Assessment results as 10 percent of a teacher’s overall evaluation. Another 20 percent is derived from other assessments that correlate with the standardized tests.

“The new [state] superintendent came in and arbitrarily increased that level to 20 percent,” Martirano said of the weight given to the MSAs. He questioned why that decision was made, especially after St. Mary’s school system was able to get the teachers union to buy into the new evaluation model. Teacher unions in general have resisted including student test results in teacher evaluations.

Martirano said he is working with the unions and other school administrators to understand what exactly happened and “to slow this down a little bit.” Martirano also questioned why schools would be forced to weigh MSA results so heavily when the test is outdated. New curriculum is already being put in place at all grade levels, and new standardized tests are expected to replace the MSAs within two years.

“It’s like we’re teaching in French but testing in Spanish,” school board member Cathy Allen said.

Dyson questioned whether Lillian M. Lowery, the state superintendent, made the decision unilaterally, and he vowed that the state legislature would take up the issue soon. He said he may ask Martirano to speak on the issue in Annapolis. “It was very controversial, even from the beginning,” Dyson said. “It looks like it’s going to come back to us,” he said, adding that some bills have already been introduced that would delay the process.

Del. John Bohanan (D-St. Mary’s) presented his now annual discussion on whether the county government is contributing what it should to the local education system.

“Local wealth per pupil does pretty well compared to other jurisdictions,” Bohanan said, adding that the taxable base per student in the county ranks 13th out of Maryland’s 24 school jurisdictions.

However, St. Mary’s ranks second to last in Maryland for overall spending per pupil, which includes money from the state, county and federal governments. Bohanan maintains that the state is paying based on a formula that pays more if a local jurisdiction pays its fair share. That is not happening in St. Mary’s, he said. O’Donnell warned that schools should not expect to receive an influx of money from casino revenue, as portrayed by some lobbying efforts last election season.

jyeatman@somdnews.com