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Hillsborough school bus stop changes upset parents

TAMPA — Starting this fall, there will be fewer bus stops for many Hillsborough County schoolchildren, meaning farther walks for some students and virtually no bus service for others.

The Hillsborough County school district, amid an overhaul of its bus routes, held an informational meeting at Sickles High School on Wednesday night to announce its changes.

The gathering was the fifth of six sessions aimed at parents whose children attend schools from South Tampa all the way northward to schools such as Lowry, Farnell and Alonso.

About 200 parents attended — the largest turnout so far. Many were unhappy. The meeting grew so intense that one parent stood up to defend John Franklin, the district's transportation general manager, asking the hissing audience to "stop the slaughter."

Franklin began the meeting by sharing the "improvements," prompting parents to heckle him for using that word.

Some of the changes:

• Students will no longer be allowed to ride home on different buses for social reasons.

• There will not be any bus service for "choice hardship" (formerly special assignment) students.

• There will not be service to for-profit day cares.

Franklin said the changes, which are tentative, are needed to cut costs and boost efficiency.

A finalized map will not be available until about mid July.

District staff members sat at laptop computers and punched in addresses so that parents could see where the new bus stops would be.

Some were shaken when the dots for their homes and the new stops popped up.

Barbara Boler's son will have to walk half a mile along a rural road without sidewalks and catch a bus at busy Gunn Highway.

"I bought that house because it was off the main drag, and now they're dragging my kid down to the main drag," she said.

Kim Gutierrez said she may have to pull her two children from their schools. They attend two different magnet schools and split their time between their divorced parents' homes, with different stops depending on whose week it is. The new plan allows just one address, so one parent would have to drive two hours to drop them at school.

"How am I going to defy the law of physics by being at two places at once?" she asked.

Franklin took down names, addresses and contact information from concerned parents, assuring them that his staff would research their complaints.

Not everyone left unhappy.

Sue Ann Cannon, a mother of three, found out that one stop remained the same and another was moved across the street.

"We're safe," she said with a smile. But her grin quickly faded as she surveyed the room. "I feel for these parents."

>>FAST FACTS

Today's meeting

There will be another informational meeting at 5:30 p.m. today in the Chamberlain High School media center.

Hillsborough school bus stop changes upset parents 05/28/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 4, 2008 9:25am]
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