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School busing in style

A limousine service's offer of a luxury ride to school for students pleases some parents, but leaves others with doubts.

By BEN MONTGOMERY
Published July 8, 2006

 
photo
[Times photo: Christ Zuppa]
Chauffeur Joe Stallings of Dream Limousine is available to drive your kids to school in this Ford Excursion. If there's enough interest, Dream Limousine may upgrade the service to a larger vehicle.

This Ford Excursion can seat five passengers. It has a bar, flat-screen television, CD player, VCR and DVD player. For transported students, water will be offered at the bar.

BRANDON - Forget the diesel fumes and bubble gum stuck under the seat. A local limousine company is offering an opulent alternative to the school bus this year.

Dream Limousine will shuttle students to school in a luxury Ford Excursion with a flat-screen television, DVD player, minibar and laptop computer connection. The sport utility vehicle has leather seats, 20-inch rims, champagne glasses and a chauffeur in a black suit.

Dream Limousine joins several companies in the area offering similar services, the latest illustration that times have changed since kids walked miles to school, uphill and through snow.

The luxury rides also raise questions about what is good for children. Some parents like the idea of Junior getting to middle school in style, while others wonder if it creates jealousy and spoils well-off students.

Some parents hire limousine services for students out of necessity. A female business executive hired Diamond Star Limousine in Clearwater to retrieve her two children from school, said Mickey Velilla, company president.

"It's actually not that uncommon," Velilla said.

Sunshine Limousine owner Anthony Rodnite has been running students from their homes in Spring Hill to Berkeley Preparatory School in Tampa for five years. He shuttles about nine students per year in a 10-passenger limousine for the 170-mile round trip, charging about $4,000 per month in total.

"They like it," said Rodnite, who as a kid had to walk 20 blocks to school, sometimes through snow, in Queens, N.Y.

Dream Limousine owners Jake and Debbie Piascik thought of hauling students a few months ago when their chauffeur's daughter moved to a middle school eight miles away to be with her friends.

No bus routes existed, so the girl's parents drove her.

The Piasciks predicted that many parents face similar challenges, especially those who drive children to charter or private schools, or parents using a school choice program.

"When people see this, they're going to think, 'Why didn't they have this before?' " said Jake Piascik.

They appear to have predicted correctly. The company already has two clients, Piascik said.

"This is not all that far-fetched," said Steve Purifoy, a real estate agent in Brandon. "People with disposable income are moving into this area."

Kim Lang, a New Tampa mother, sacrifices time at work at her candle company to haul her two kids to school and activities like cheerleading and horseback riding.

"I would be happy to pay a service so that I could continue to work and be home at a decent hour to be with our kids," she said. "My time is valuable to my company."

And her kids would dig it.

"They're really all about pomp and circumstance," she said. "They are all into status."

Others aren't sure it's a good idea.

"What about the poor kids?" asked Carl Walten, a 43-year-old roofer. "If only the rich kids could get on this, you're going to create separation of the classes. Make sure everybody has the opportunity, then I don't have a problem with it."

Piascik said the service is as affordable as he could make it. He'll charge around $2 to $3 a student per mile.

"That's the one thing we don't want to do is cause any type of friction," he said.

Allison Perry, a South Tampa lawyer who leaves work early so she can pick up her daughter from a private elementary school, calls the luxury rides obnoxious.

"What's next?" Perry said. "Are we going to hire someone to pack their lunches?"

Such services don't surprise Jeanna Mastrodicasa, associate dean of the University of Florida honors college, who sees parents today going to extremes for their students as never before.

"This is really parents making decisions for their students and putting their students' best interest first rather than anything else," she said.

Such pampering could hurt kids once they reach the real world, she said.

"It's a little unhealthy," she said. "To me it's funny and it's a little disturbing to realize that there's been that much of a shift in parental relationships."

Ben Montgomery can be reached at bmontgomery@sptimes.com or 813 661-2443.

[Last modified July 8, 2006, 05:29:53]


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