Records Detail How Pricey Bus Camera Program Sank DCS Finances

Stop-arm camera ticket revenue lagged far behind expenses

New records show how a school bus stop-arm camera program left Dallas County Schools in a battle to pay its own bills.

DCS is best known as the agency that operates the school buses for 12 local school districts. This week the agency announced it is more than $40 million behind budget.

In 2012, the agency launched a program to put cameras on school buses to catch drivers who run past school bus stop signs. Each time a car runs past a stopped school bus that has a stop arm extended, DCS sends the owner of the vehicle a ticket in the mail.

DCS promised taxpayers the fines collected from drivers would pay for the millions of dollars worth of camera equipment.

When the program began, DCS hailed it as a safety improvement and a big win for taxpayers.

"This is going to be the wave of the future. We happen to be on the leading edge of it, which is going to be great for Dallas County Schools. It will be great for the taxpayers of Dallas," said DCS superintendent Rick Sorrells, in a 2014 interview with NBC 5.

But in 2014, NBC 5 Investigates first reported the fines collected were lagging way behind the districts projections.

Still, Sorrells and DCS board president Larry Duncan promised the cameras would pay for themselves soon.

"Please come back in three years and we will sit here and have this same discussion, except we will be saying, 'Rick, you were right. They did pay for it,'" said Sorrells in 2014.

New records show DCS has collected $19 million in fines, but DCS check records show that since 2010, the agency has spent more than $52 million to pay for the camera program.

The costs ballooned in part because DCS expanded the program way beyond Dallas County.

To take the business statewide, DCS created an unusual partnership with their camera supplier, Force Multiplier Solutions.

DCS signed a deal to pay Force Multiplier $25 million more over time for a technology license. The deal made DCS the only vendor of Force Multiplier Cameras in Texas.

DCS would purchase Force Multiplier equipment and cameras and, in turn, give them to other school districts for free in exchange for a cut of the money collected on the tickets.

But many drivers caught on camera don't pay the fines, and the tickets are sometimes thrown out on appeals.

Monthly reports show DCS has been unable to collect at least $12 million in fines from drivers ticketed across the state.

That's made it even harder to cover the costs of the pricey program that's left DCS unable to cover the costs of the pricey program.

At a meeting earlier this week, DCS acknowledged the program is now at least $20 million in the hole.

DCS plans to cut 90 to 100 jobs to trim expenses, and Alan King, the district's new interim chief financial officer, is now scrambling to find other ways to help keep the agency afloat.

"By next month we will have the budget amendment on both sides of the ledger to continue on a solid basis," said board president Duncan.

Adding to the problems, DCS borrowed millions to purchase the camera equipment. This week, King said the district is teetering on the brink of being unable to make payments on its debt.

NBC 5 Investigates has asked repeatedly to interview superintendent Sorrells. This week he told NBC 5 he cannot talk right now but hopes to be able to do that soon.

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