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Schools

Bus stop changes coming

By ANDREW MEACHAM
Published May 11, 2007


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Starting this fall, officials will experiment with changes to bus stops and school schedules in southeastern Hillsborough County.

Officials introduced a test program Monday to more than 100 parents at East Bay High School. The changes affect students in Area 5, which includes Bloomingdale, East Bay, Lennard, Riverview and Spoto high schools as well as all of the elementary and middle schools.

The bottom line for kids and parents: longer school days, a little more walking to bus stops and less door-to-door bus service.

In return, buses should be less crowded and more likely to arrive on time. Magnet schools, school choice and a shortage of bus drivers forced the overhaul, general transportation manager Karen Strickland said.

The rest of the county's schools will get the program in 2008. It was devised by a consultant following complaints about inefficiency and students' late arrivals.

State standards currently allow students to walk up to 1.5 miles to a bus stop and 2 miles to school. But the district hasn't asked nearly that much of students so far, School Board member Candy Olson said.

"We've gotten into the habit of saying, 'We'll pick you up at your door, but, whoops, that makes you late, ' " Olson said.

Busing will continue for all students in areas that the state classifies as hazardous.

In most cases, students will walk well under the maximum allowable distance, Strickland said.

While stops along busy roads such as U.S. 41 or U.S. 301 will not change, some students will hike farther to bus stops. In most cases, the distance will still be less than the 1.5 miles the state allows without requiring busing.

"It's not like we're throwing everything out and making kids walk over to an area, " she said. "It's just cleaning up some of the extra bus stops that truly might not be needed."

Officials will try to eliminate isolated bus stops that draw only one or two children, but still keep the total number of students at bus stops to 20 or fewer. The minimum distances between bus stops will be pushed to 500 feet to allow for safer traffic flow, Strickland said.

The redesign aims to put no more than two high school students or three elementary students in each bus seat.

The school day will lengthen to give drivers more time to run on schedule. All 23 elementary schools in the pilot program will start the day at 8:05 a.m. instead of 8 a.m., and end at 2:20 p.m.

Five middle schools - Burns, Eisenhower, Giunta, Rodgers and Shields - will see school days start 15 minutes earlier and end 15 minutes later. Other middle schools and high schools will lengthen their days by up to 20 minutes.

An exception is the South County Career Center, which will start one hour earlier and end an hour later.

Agriculture teacher Ernie Johns fears that the school will lose students as a result. "Why would you tell a kid he has to go to school two more hours a day?" Johns said.

Officials are trying to spread the work equally among bus drivers, Strickland said, adding that the new schedule at the South County Career Center will mirror those at the county's two other career centers.

The pilot program will likely go another year without enough bus drivers. The county has 138 vacancies for more than 1, 100 current bus routes, Strickland said. But officials will not know how many positions to fill until the pilot program's first year has ended.

The school district will mail a list of updated 2007-08 bus stops to parents by the end of the current school year, Strickland said.

Jack Davis, the school district's chief information and technology officer, told parents that the changes would mean greater efficiency while maintaining safety for students.

"We will work with every one of you to try to address your concerns, " Davis said.

Andrew Meacham can be reached at 661-2431 or ameacham@sptimes.com.

Fast Facts:

 

To learn more

Call the School Board's transportation department, 982-5500.

To request a bus stop, call 982-5500 or pick up a form online at http://www.sdhc.k12.fl.us/transportation/addchange.asp. Transportation staff keep track of requests to stay in touch with what the public wants.

 

[Last modified May 10, 2007, 07:38:11]


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