TAMPA — In a gloomy economic environment, Hillsborough School Board members Tuesday discussed transportation changes likely to inconvenience many parents and students.
School officials are reviewing a wide range of services — including school nurses, guidance programs, athletics and media specialists — for cost-saving cuts. Superintendent MaryEllen Elia said she expects difficult budget decisions for the coming school year and into the future.
"The students and teachers in the classroom are going to be held sacred," she said. "But we have to look at other things, and we have to look at efficiencies."
The main target Tuesday was bus operations, where the district is in the middle of a major overhaul. To increase efficiencies, school officials are recommending ending school bus service to private daycare centers. General transportation manager John Franklin estimated that 150 daycare programs and about 2,000 students take advantage of the free rides.
School officials are making plans for the nearly two-dozen schools that would feel the greatest impact, most of them in the northwestern suburbs. They plan to offer parents an option to enroll in fee-based daycare programs on the campuses.
In another change, parents would no longer be able to send notes authorizing their child to ride home on a different bus, such as to a friend's house. The district would make exceptions in emergencies.
Franklin has heard anecdotal reports of high schools where as many as 60 students can change buses on a daily basis, making it a nightmare to keep track of students. He said the district has piloted the changes in eastern Hillsborough without a major outcry from parents.
Board Chairwoman Jennifer Faliero worried about parents who have to work late unexpectedly being denied transportation for their children.
"That's half the population," she said, asking what would happen if she had to stay late for a Board meeting and wanted her daughter to go home with a friend. "These situations occur."
Hillsborough also is looking at making permanent changes tried out this school year for students whose parents are divorced and split custody. Under the new rules, only middle and high school students are allowed to take different buses during the week, and only if both parents live within the school boundary and qualify for transportation.
School officials also want to crack down on offering bus rides on a space-available basis to students who aren't eligible for transportation. Most parents already know they can't do this any longer, Franklin said.
He plans to bring the recommended transportation changes, which could go into effect next year, to the Board for approval as soon as next week.
They include the possibility of longer bus rides for students attending schools out of their attendance boundaries. And teachers no longer could have their children ride buses from their school to the teacher's workplace.
Letitia Stein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3400. For more education news, visit The Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.