Cameras, cameras everywhere
At the Pinellas School Board meeting Tuesday, a discussion about discipline for three employees turned into a mini-debate about the use of security cameras. The employees, all members of the night cleaning crew at school district headquarters, were caught on cameras taking long breaks and leaving work early.
But board member Janet Clark complained: "I think cameras should be a last resort … My concern is: 'Where are we going with it?'"
Clark said she would support firmer guidelines for the use of cameras in schools and other district buildings. Board member Linda Lerner said she was concerned too, and called for more discussion of the issue.
The Largo building has 60 security cameras watching over its many common areas. Officials said the three employees were found out when an officer with the district police department began to investigate after he scanned the security monitors and noticed cleaning carts sitting idle for long periods of time. After it became apparent the crew was slacking, they were told to improve their work habits. Instead, they moved their breaks to a location with no cameras. The district then installed a camera in the new location and monitored it for two weeks.
The board on Tuesday approved five-day unpaid suspensions for the employees.
"The camera helped us substantiate what we thought was happening," said Jim Lott, an official with the district office that investigates employee problems.
Wilcox said the case started with a police officer doing his job, and employees need not worry about being constantly watched. Many schools have similar camera systems. "Please don't think we're out to create an environment where Big Brother is watching,' he said.
Some board members didn’t see a problem with the cameras.
"I think you have to remember why the cameras are here, and they're here for a positive reason," said board member Peggy O'Shea.
The employees are, after all, "being paid with taxpayer dollars," noted board member Jane Gallucci. She added: "At one point I noticed that some of the bathrooms were getting really yucky."
- Tom Tobin, Pinellas County education reporter