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Hillsborough school chief apologizes for bus mess

TAMPA — Hillsborough superintendent MaryEllen Elia apologized "profusely" on Friday to parents frustrated by the lack of bus stop information in the final days before school starts.

"I don't believe this was up to our usual standards," Elia said during her annual back-to-school news conference.

She said the district should have gotten information out earlier. She attributed a delay in part to the need to check out safety concerns raised at community meetings in the late summer.

So two days before the first day of school, the district has extended weekend hours at a transportation call center. But that hotline has been working intermittently.

School officials asked parents for patience and suggested trying during lower-volume times. The call center is open from 4 a.m. until 9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

The district has pledged to pick up any student standing at a bus stop during the first week of school and make sure the child gets to the appropriate campus.

In Westchase, Cynthia Keenan said she got a bus stop notice last week for her daughter, who will attend Davidsen Middle School. But she hasn't gotten anything for her son Nick, a freshman headed for Robinson High School.

After four days of phone calls, she still knew nothing. The transportation lines were busy. At the Robinson open house, she stood in a "very long line" of parents trying to find out bus information. But she got out of line after other Westchase parents told her that none of their kids were even on a list.

Told there would be extended hours for the hotline over the weekend, Keenan said, "Why should I be spending my weekend trying to call a number that is working only intermittently? Why is this all on us? I don't understand why all this eleventh-hour stuff is happening."

"I just can't get over the lack of information," she said. "To just keep getting the busy signal or all circuits are busy for four days, now, it's aggravating."

Times staff writer Rick Danielson contributed to this report. Letitia Stein can be reached at lstein@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3400.

Last-minute bus questions? Try calling the district's transportation call center between 4 a.m. and 9 p.m. this weekend at (813) 982-5500.

>>FAST FACTS

Hotline to be open

Last-minute bus questions? Call the district's transportation call center between 4 a.m. and 9 p.m. this weekend at (813) 982-5500.

Hillsborough school chief apologizes for bus mess 08/16/08 [Last modified: Friday, August 22, 2008 1:20pm]
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