TAMPA — Add bus routes and school kids to the long list of things expected to be disrupted this August by the Republican National Convention.
Schoolchildren on Davis Islands and Harbour Island might find themselves waiting at their bus stops even earlier than usual as the Hillsborough County School District's transportation department copes with road closings and increased traffic.
Administrators are expecting some significant obstacles when they try to bus kids to schools nearest to the downtown convention area and will be using some alternate routes, said John Franklin, transportation director for Hillsborough schools. That can mean anything from elongated routes to detours to splitting routes between two buses if one gets too far behind.
The school system is trying to plan as much in advance as it can, though the security perimeter around the Tampa Bay Times Forum, where the convention will be held Aug. 27-30, has not been set by the U.S. Secret Service.
The Rampello K-8 Downtown Partnership School, a public school a few blocks north of the Times Forum, will likely close during the convention.
"Anywhere we can avoid routing buses in what is expected to be the hot zone, we're trying to avoid those areas," Franklin said.
The game plan also includes carrying uniformed school security officers onboard buses operating nearest the convention during its four days, Franklin said. And more security will be waiting for kids and staff as they head to class in schools closest to the convention. More than anything, Franklin said, the extra security is for parents' peace of mind.
The department is trying to be proactive, Franklin said, but a lot is still up in the air.
"I don't know how much different it's going to be," he said. "It might only be felt in the start time the driver leaves their location."
In order to get the drivers, kids and schools familiar with different routes, the buses will be running the alternate plans from the first day of school on Aug. 21 through the convention, Franklin said. They will change back to the typical routes after Labor Day.
The schools also are hoping to use the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway as little as possible, as it has a high probability of being one of the closed roads, Franklin said. And bus drivers will be encouraged to fill up on gas during non-peak hours to avoid getting caught in traffic.
The system also is working to hire enough drivers to have on call in case there are issues preventing buses from finishing their routes on time, Franklin said.
The transportation department will emphasize communication with parents during the hectic week, relying on the Internet, television and phones, Franklin said.
All school buses will hit the road Aug. 20 for a countywide practice. The school system maintains about 1,400 buses in its fleet and generally runs about 1,000 a day, Franklin said.
Caitlin Johnston can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 225-3111.