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Gridlock at New Tampa elementary as school bus cutbacks reach final phase

Kids bike and walk with parents to school outside Pride Elementary School. About 90 Pride students were affected by the decision to cut seven bus stops this year.

MARLENE SOKOL | Times

Kids bike and walk with parents to school outside Pride Elementary School. About 90 Pride students were affected by the decision to cut seven bus stops this year.

TAMPA — Cindy Kelly sits and sits and sits in traffic to drop off her son at Pride Elementary.

Cars backed up last week for more than a mile leading to the New Tampa school. It was gridlock from 7:30 a.m. to 8 a.m. Parents who arrived early, when the school could not take responsibility for their children, were sent to the end of the line.

It's enough to test anyone's patience, said Kelly, a mother of two who works at a hospital. She's seen angry drivers blow through the school zone and cut through carloads of children.

"I hate to sound like a silly suburban mom in New Tampa complaining about the drop-off line," said Kelly, 43. "But I'm scared."

Pride's morning rush is not unique. School traffic is heavy this time of year, as parents linger to get their children settled in. Since 2007, there also have been countywide changes in school bus service, including a reduction in trips considered discretionary. Officials say the $9 million they saved on that, along with other cost-cutting measures, helped them weather state funding cuts without laying off teachers.

Speaking at a School Board workshop, superintendent MaryEllen Elia said she hopes more children will walk and bike to school, improving fitness.

But Kelly, who lives just inside the 2-mile radius where busing is generally not provided, thinks her 7-year-old son is too young to walk alone.

"I am into fitness," she said. "I'd love to walk. But I have to be at work at 8 a.m."

The district spread bus stops farther apart and phased out busing for students in the school choice program and within 2 miles of schools. It was a tough sell: In eastern Hillsborough County, parents flooded district phone lines and filled meeting halls to complain.

District spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said she did not know of any complaints about this year's changes in New Tampa, which mark the final phase of the plan. At Pride, seven stops were cut, affecting some 90 students, Cobbe said. She did not know how many were reassigned to new bus stops. And she doubts the reorganization caused the problems at Pride, which finds itself in a perfect storm of traffic issues.

First, the county is building a turn lane leading to the school, one of about 20 such projects. "We had hoped to have all of these completed before school began," said county spokesman Steve Valdez. "But with the heavy rains, we were delayed."

Kinnan Street, which leads to the school, is lined with gated neighborhoods, making it all but impossible to park along the way.

The new turn lane could be finished by Friday. But, Valdez said, "even when we finish this project, it will not solve the problem."

Kelly said principal Cindy Land and her staff seem to be doing all they can to supervise the mess and keep parents informed. Conditions seemed better as the week went on.

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

Gridlock at New Tampa elementary as school bus cutbacks reach final phase 08/29/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 30, 2011 12:40am]

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