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On first day, getting there a hassle
As the school system overhauls its bus service, parents in Wimauma aren't pleased.
By SAUNDRA AMRHEIN, Times Staff Writer
Published August 21, 2007
Students board bus 4094 bound for Wimauma Elementary School.
[Skip O'Rourke | Times]
[Skip O'Rourke | Times]
Many parents and students found change with the new school year, in Wimauma, if you lived within a certain distance of the school you hand to walk to school or take one of two buses that stopped at a central location.
WIMAUMA - Margarita Estrada nudged her 7-year-old grandson to the side of the road as they walked along busy North Street shortly after sunrise.
The new school bus stop at the intersection with Delia Street is three blocks from the one that was eliminated but much closer than the alternative: trekking the whole way to Wimauma Elementary.
Estrada and parents throughout southeastern Hillsborough County saw kids off to school Monday amid a pilot program to overhaul school bus operations. New routes eliminated some bus stops and moved others closer to busy roads. While parents fretted, few major problems were reported.
In Wimauma, many working families found relatives and neighbors to help get their children to school. In the Bloomingdale area near Brandon, some concerned parents refused to let their children ride the bus, fearful of heavy traffic at new stops.
Estrada worries about the days when she can't walk with her grandson or meet him at the stop in the afternoon.
"There are no sidewalks here, and they speed a lot," Estrada said of traffic on Wimauma's North Street.
The school district is revamping a transportation system long plagued by late buses, inefficient operations and difficulty recruiting drivers. The pilot program will guide how to expand changes to all schools next year.
Already, district officials adjusted the plan for Wimauma after parents complained that changes would force children to walk across State Road 674 or longer routes unsupervised.
Help for parents
Two restored bus stops and service to after-school programs have helped many parents, Wimauma Elementary principal Roy Moral said Monday.
Some, like the moms at the stop at North and Delia streets, plan to trade drop-off and pickup duties with neighbors.
For others, Moral opened the school an hour early - at 6:30 a.m. - to help parents with early jobs whose stops were cut. Twelve students arrived early on Monday, but he expects that number to grow to 50 to 60.
Some late buses are typical on the first day of school, but this year's hassles were compounded by the new bus stops.
Despite extensive testing over the weekend, about a dozen buses were halted Monday morning by a range of mechanical or safety failures. District officials scurried to find alternatives to get children to school, schools spokesman Stephen Hegarty said.
Hundreds of people phoned a district call center set up to answer transportation inquiries. School officials expect the heavy volume to continue for several days.
A week after asking school officials to change the bus stop for her children at U.S. 301 and Alambra Avenue near Brandon, Jennifer Price waited there Monday morning.
"It was just a disaster," she said. "The traffic is horrible."
Price said traffic on the busy road scared the Frost Elementary School students standing at the new bus stop. And the group of children blocked the view of drivers trying to turn onto U.S. 301.
Trouble at new stop
"One woman was yelling at us to get out of the way," Price said. "I said, 'Excuse me, this is the new bus stop. You'll have to get over it.' "
School officials are looking at several bus stops where parents have safety worries and will address their concerns, Hegarty said.
At 7:15 a.m., Tim Cunningham sat in his Ford pickup, staring out at the cars whizzing along Bell Shoals Road in Bloomingdale.
"This is not good," he said.
The speed limit is 45 mph, but most drivers were going faster. It's also where his 7-year-old son will wait for the bus - if Cunningham lets him.
"He can't even cross the street yet," Cunningham said.
There used to be a bus stop down a side street, but no longer.
A few streets away, Pearl Chiarenza and Denise Schaller were waiting for the bus with a handful of neighborhood kids, all under age 10.
But they weren't riding the bus to Cimino Elementary either, for the same reason.
Chiarenza was carrying a sign that read: Have a PAWS-itive Great First Day of School!
But she said if the bus situation isn't remedied soon, she'll be holding a different sign.
"If this is the way it's going to be, we will be picketing," Schaller said.
Staff writers Catherine Shoichet, S.I. Rosenbaum and Letitia Stein contributed to this report. Saundra Amrhein can be reached at 813 661-2441 or firstname.lastname@example.org