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    Private bus service approved

    Protests don't stop the School Board from choosing a company to transport South County Career Center students.

    By RYAN MEEHAN, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published July 17, 2002

    TAMPA -- Despite the presence of more than 100 protesters, the School Board voted Tuesday night to hire a private company to provide bus transportation to students attending the new South County Career Center near the Manatee County line.

    The board spent more than half an hour fielding comments from about a dozen people, many of them county bus drivers, who said the change could be the first step toward privatization of school transportation.

    Board member Glenn Barrington echoed that concern.

    "The state administration is totally dedicated to privatizing anything they can find," he said.

    The one-year contract will pay Central Florida Transit about $270,000. Some of the speakers said they worry children will not be in safe hands with bus drivers who are not held to the same standards as county employees.

    The county, they say, is more diligent in its screening of drivers.

    "They will hire any employee they can, as cheap as they can," former school employee Raymond Alonzo said of private bus companies.

    Board member Jack Lamb said the privately employed drivers will be held to the same standards as those of county drivers.

    The contract will be re-evaluated next year before any extension is signed. The decision will be based on need and the program's success, officials said.

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