BRANDON — Parents at a town hall meeting Monday night grilled Hillsborough County schools superintendent Mary Ellen Elia on everything from funding for the arts to school supplies to concerns about a new language arts curriculum.
But one theme prevailed: school bus stops.
Fifteen parents stood up during the open forum part of the meeting to speak in front of Elia and a crowd of about 200 parents, teachers and school administrators. Questions went on for about an hour.
Most of them took Elia to task on why they weren't told about bus stop changes before school started, why stops are on busy streets and why transportation to and from magnet schools isn't more efficient.
"You're risking our kids," said Pearl Chiarenza, whose son has to stand at a bus stop on busy Bell Shoals Road in Brandon. "I want to know what you're going to do to fix it."
In most cases, Elia referred parents to transportation manager John Franklin.
But Elia also told parents the district had investigated about 200 bus stops complaints and moved 80 stops.
Before the meeting, the Burns Middle School chamber orchestra played. Elia assured parents that she would try to protect funding for arts programs.
She also rattled off a list of achievements by area schools, including a county-best 96.4 percent graduation rate at Bloomingdale High, 64 National Merit finalists countywide and the Wimauma Elementary chess team's state championship.
Among the parents who spoke was Becky Goodman, a Valrico mom who asked Elia to explain why Goodman's kindergarten daughter was mistakenly put on the bus at school and dropped off at a bus stop without a parent to meet her.
"There's a crack (in the system)," Goodman said. "My 5-year-old daughter fell through it."
Jan Wesner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 661-2439.