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Grieving mom decries bus system

Two Pinellas safety plans are announced, but Sally McKinney says more needs to be done.

Published April 7, 2005

PINELLAS PARK - The Pinellas school district has not done enough to fix its bus system after two student deaths, the mother of one of those students said in an emotional appearance Wednesday.

Making her first public remarks since the October death of her daughter, Rebecca, Sally McKinney of Clearwater pointedly asked school officials why the public should trust them.

She asserted that the district has no system in place to change bus routes when drivers or parents report dangerous conditions at stops.

She also noted that Terry Palmer, the district's transportation director, has been transferred to district headquarters and removed from day-to-day responsibility for school bus operations.

McKinney characterized the move as a promotion and said Palmer was in charge when Rebecca and a second girl, Brooke Ingoldsby, were killed in separate bus-related accidents just four months apart.

"What kind of a message does this send to our community?" McKinney asked. As she left the lectern at a district forum on safety, her other daughter, 18-year-old Mary, left the auditorium in tears.

The episode was equal parts awkward and poignant as the district continues to feel the aftershocks of two girls killed because of problems in its transportation department.

The district held the forum at Pinellas Park High School to announce two new safety initiatives titled "Safety First" and "Be Cool - Follow the Rules." Both sprang from the girls' deaths.

The forum happened to be on a day of remembrance for the McKinney family - exactly 180 days since Rebecca, a 16-year-old sophomore at Clearwater High, was struck by a pickup on McMullen-Booth Road after a school bus dropped her off.

The family says it complained repeatedly about the stop, which later was determined to be in violation of a long-standing district directive.

The district has as much as admitted its role in Rebecca's death, and her family has formally expressed its intention to sue the district,

While the family and its lawyers from Tampa's Yerrid Law Firm insist the district has taken no corrective action, district officials say they have addressed the problem in a comprehensive way.

After Rebecca's death, superintendent Clayton Wilcox and the School Board "said look at everything. Take transportation apart and put it back together," district spokesman Ron Stone told McKinney.

The result, he said, was a review of 15,000 bus stops. Hundreds were found to be like Rebecca's, which dropped students off at stops that required them to cross busy roads. Those stops were corrected, Stone said.

He also noted that the transportation department is being reorganized with new supervisors and a structure that puts bus drivers in closer contact with their supervisors. As for Palmer, he is temporarily assigned to district headquarters to work on the reorganization. He has not received a raise nor been promoted.

[Last modified April 7, 2005, 01:22:13]

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