Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Crowded IB school bus stirs up Westchase publisher

TAMPA — Westchase parent Christopher Barrett thought he had solved the problem of crowded school buses to Robinson High School.

At the start of the school year, frequent bus breakdowns were forcing students to double up for the 40-minute trek from Westchase to South Tampa for the International Baccalaureate program. They were sitting on backpacks in the aisle. And without air conditioning.

Barrett spelled it out in a letter Monday morning to superintendent MaryEllen Elia and other officials in the district. He wrote that John Franklin, the district's former transportation chief, took care of the problem when he first complained.

But after Franklin left in April, problems returned, according to his letter. Four times in 11 school days, he said, students experienced excessive crowding.

"Ms. Elia left a phone message stating that the district's busing system, despite recent publicity, was safe," Barrett wrote. "I can assure you, based on Westchase parents' experiences, it is not."

By the end of business Monday, Barrett got a promise that the problem would be resolved.

The Robinson situation is just one example of what some officials call inconvenience and others call unsafe conditions as the district deals with old buses, shabby maintenance shops and a shortage of drivers.

A School Board workshop is planned Wednesday to try to remedy bus system problems, a process that could cost tens of millions of dollars.

In the case of Westchase, the letter-writing parent was the longtime publisher and editor of World of Westchase, a magazine that goes out to thousands of homeowners in the tony Tampa suburb.

Barrett, who got involved at the urging of other parents, blamed board members as well as the administration. He wrote that his representative on the board — Susan Valdes — "appeared more interested in charging the current administration with conspiracies that undermined the board's ability to get reliable bus bids" when he called her.

He blamed "the board's current dysfunction — and its constant appointment of task forces rather than quickly addressing the district's most basic issues."

Valdes, in response, said she has suggested solutions, including a salary survey for noninstructional workers such as drivers, but her ideas were voted down by the board majority.

At one point Monday, Barrett shared photos a student took on the afternoon bus, showing teens sitting shoulder-to-shoulder and crouching and standing in the aisles.

His own daughter was not on that bus, he said. She got a ride home, as did at least four other students. "My wife will carpool the lot of them tomorrow and she hopes to continue until the safety situation is addressed," he said.

But that was before he got a call in the afternoon from Chris Farkas, the district's new facilities chief. Farkas is overseeing transportation until the district can find a replacement for Franklin.

"He's committed that, beginning tomorrow morning, the Westchase hub will once again have its two complete buses with no double runs," Barrett said.

"He added the caveat that if one calls in sick they may have to double run that day, but he said, barring illness, Westchase will return to the much safer situation we've had over the past few months."

Barrett was thrilled. He thanked school officials in a followup letter. He told Farkas he wishes him luck in the months ahead.

Laughingly, he said, "We will pray for you."

Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 226-3356 or sokol@tampabay.com.

Crowded IB school bus stirs up Westchase publisher 05/12/14 [Last modified: Monday, May 12, 2014 10:50pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Culpepper falls just short on 'Survivor' finale

    Human Interest

    In the end, Tampa lawyer Brad Culpepper fell just short, and the ex-Tampa Bay Buccaneer lost Survivor: Game Changers and the $1 million prize to Sarah Lacina, a police officer from Iowa.

  2. Families dispute claims that slain Tampa Palms roommates shared neo-Nazi beliefs

    Crime

    TAMPA — Andrew Oneschuk never liked making small talk on the phone, his father said, but the last time the two spoke, something seemed off.

    Andrew Oneschuk and Jeremy Himmelman lived in a Tampa Palms apartment with Devon Arthurs and Brandon Russell. Oneschuk and Himmelman reportedly planned to move out.
  3. Brad Culpepper makes it to final 3 on Survivor, but jury picks Sarah

    The Feed

    UPDATE, WEDNESDAY NIGHT: Tampa's Brad Culpepper make it to the final 3 on Survivor, but jurors chose Sarah as the winner of the $1 million.

    Original report follows:

    "The Tables Have Turned" - Brad Culpepper, Tai Trang and Hali Ford on the fourth episode of SURVIVOR: Game Changers on the CBS Television Network. Photo: Jeffrey Neira/CBS Entertainment
  4. Steven Souza Jr. snaps out of slump as Rays defeat Angels (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — After Tuesday's shutout loss to the Angels, Steven Souza Jr. stood in front of his locker and talked about his need to contribute to the offense.

    Tampa Bay Rays catcher Jesus Sucre (45) hugs right fielder Steven Souza Jr. (20) in the dugout after his two run home run in the second inning of the game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Los Angeles Angels at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Wednesday, May 24, 2017.
  5. Tom Jones: Rays made right move sending Blake Snell to minors

    The Heater

    tom jones' two cents

    ST. PETERSBURG

    Blake Snell’s struggles on the mound were only one of the reasons the Rays sent him to the minors; some other red flags existed. [WILL VRAGOVIC   |   Times]