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    Bus drivers balk at privatized route

    They fear the proposal for South County Career Center is part of a larger privatization plan for Hillsborough schools.

    By MELANIE AVE, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published April 10, 2002

    TAMPA -- School bus drivers expressed surprise and disappointment Tuesday at the Hillsborough school district's recent effort to privatize a bus route, the first time an outside firm has been asked to shuttle local students to school on a daily basis.

    The district recently placed an advertisement soliciting private companies to operate 10 to 12 buses for the new South County Career Center, which is opening in the fall near the Manatee County line.

    Some bus drivers fear the move is the beginning of a larger plan by school officials to contract out its bus service, which transports about 82,000 children.

    But assistant superintendent Randy Poindexter said the district is making the request because of the career center's location and because of a shortage of bus drivers. With 11 schools opening in the fall, he expects the current shortage of 50 drivers to worsen.

    "We don't have the drivers to drive the runs," he said.

    Superintendent Earl Lennard said no decision has been made about accepting an outside contractor, a change that would have to be approved by the School Board.

    Bob Scott, executive director of the Hillsborough School Employees Federation, the union that represents bus drivers, said he is concerned about drivers' jobs and the safety of schoolchildren. He requested that the district conduct a detailed analysis before going to an outside company.

    "Our concern is as employees, parents and taxpayers," he said.

    In other action Tuesday:

    The School Board agreed to suspend without pay two Webb Middle School teachers, Patricia Hurley, 40, and Barbara Toepke, 48, for poor performance. Hurley has been a Hillsborough teacher for 15 years; Toepke for 18.

    The board initiated dismissal proceedings against Tampa Bay Technical High School teacher Arthur Wilson, 53, who was suspended without pay on April 4, 2000, after his arrest on drug charges.

    Board members appointed five new school officials. They are Gorrie Elementary assistant principal Lou Cerreta to Buckhorn Elementary; elementary education supervisor Karen Zilenski to Essrig Elementary; Downtown Partnership School principal Craig Burkhard to Kingswood Elementary; McDonald Elementary assistant principal Margaret Michalak to Summerfield Elementary; and Beth McIntyre, promoted from assistant principal to principal, at Trapnell Elementary.

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