TAMPA — Parents' frustrations about dangerously crowded buses and transportation problems dominated superintendent MaryEllen Elia's town hall meeting Tuesday night.
Only a handful of parents attended the gathering at Hillsborough High, the first of seven planned around the county this month. The four women who raised busing complaints got the full attention of district leaders.
"We have a big issue with bus size, kids falling out of their seats, sitting on the floor," said Susan Edgerley, whose daughter once had to sit on the floor on a bus traveling between the Westchase area and the Robinson High International Baccalaureate program in South Tampa.
Other Robinson families from northwest Hillsborough find it is taking the buses two hours to bring children home, said Diane Fenimore, a parent liaison to the IB magnet. "There are parents who are pulling their kids out of the program," she said.
Elia apologized for the communication troubles about bus route changes this year. Some parents began the year not knowing their children's bus stops.
Elia has increased staffing at the call center where phone lines had been jammed, and said the wait is minutes now. She believes her office is hearing from about 1 percent of the students the district transports. Still, Tuesday's 1,550 calls marked a jump over the end of last week.
Florence Wright, a school employee at Oak Park Elementary, asked why kids were being crammed four across in bus seats. "They are in the seats like sardines," she said. "It's unsafe."
Top district officers pledged to investigate. Elia noted some bus crowding happens at the beginning of every school year, while routes are being balanced.
She cheered the woman who introduced herself as the parent of a success story for the Hillsborough public schools. But Cindy Franks had a busing problem, too. The district isn't letting a bus drop her daughter at a city after-school program in a park. And walking from the bus stop takes the middle school student down busy dangerous roads.
"She would have a half-mile to go by herself, with a trombone and her books," Franks said. "And there's a sexual predator on the road."