Fifteen of the school buses in the Windham-Raymond fleet will be equipped with new stop arms. Jane Vaughan / Lakes Region Weekly

WINDHAM — In an effort to protect students from getting hit by vehicles that pass stopped school buses, a coalition in Windham and Raymond hopes to raise $32,250 for 15 stop arms to be installed on RSU 14 buses.

The stop arms are 6 feet long and designed to extend into the opposite lane. They will be installed with the buses’ 2-foot long retractable stop signs, said RSU 14 Director of Transportation Mike Kelly. “They’re part of that whole mechanism.”

They will serve as a visual rather than a physical deterrent.

The six-foot-long stop arms will be installed next to the current, shorter stop signs. Jane Vaughan / Lakes Region Weekly

According to a study that was conducted by the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services in 38 states, nearly 84,000 vehicles illegally passed school buses on one day during the 2017-18 school year. American Traffic Solutions reports that the stop arms decreased violations by 36 percent.

In addition, Superintendent Chris Howell said he has received much anecdotal evidence from RSU 57, which is centered in Waterboro, saying that the arms are successful as a deterrent and are even more effective than external cameras.

The towns of Windham and Raymond, the Windham PTA, the Raymond PTO and Odyssey Angels (a group of 8-year-olds from Windham Primary School who are asking businesses to donate) have raised $5,000 since fundraising began two weeks ago.

In addition, two Windham businesses, K & D Countertops and MGM Builders, have each donated a stop arm at a cost $2,150 a piece, said Windham PTA President Ernesta Kennedy. She hopes to be able to purchase 15 arms total to outfit half of the district’s fleet.

We felt that, hopefully, we’re going to exceed that. But we thought that we’d be more reasonable with our goals to start,” she said. 

Howell said the issue came to light in recent months after a few parents brought it up at a School Board meeting and residents discussed the topic on social media. At that point, the school’s budget had been completed, so there were no available funds for the stop arms.

All RSU 14 buses are equipped with exterior cameras that begin filming when the stop sign arm deploys. A state law passed in June states that the video footage can be used to prosecute individuals who go through stopped bus arms.

The stop arms are “more of a deterrent than the cameras. It is a strong visual,” Howell said.

Howell believes that more drivers are missing school bus stop signals due to an increase in the number of distracted drivers on the road.

Windham Police Chief Kevin Schofield said that if a vehicle passes a stopped school bus, an officer will interview witnesses, take statements, review video if available and investigate the complaint. An offender can be ticketed and fined a minimum of $250 for the first offense.

“I would suggest that the arm, which extends, helps with visibility, and that can only be a good thing,” Schofield said. “I would encourage motorists to be cognizant of their surroundings and when approaching a school bus or school bus stop to drive defensibly and be prepared to stop.”

Kelly said the new stop arms will not require any more maintenance than the regular stop arms.

They may need to be lubricated a little bit more,” Kelly said. “Generally speaking, it’s not a big issue.”

The arms will be installed by the district’s in-house technicians.

Kennedy said fundraising will continue through the end of the school year, although “hopefully we will be meeting the goal well before that.” She said the movement has garnered a lot of support, and she is confident the $32,250 goal will be met.

Howell said the district has already ordered three arms from W.C. Cressey & Son in Kennebunk. They will be used in Raymond and Windham on “higher-risk routes, places we’re seeing the highest violators.”

He hopes to have one of the arms on the road within the next week and looks forward to equipping more of the RSU 14 fleet.

We wish people would pay a little more attention out on the roads. It’s dangerous for our kids,” Howell said. 

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