Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Education

Emotions overflow during Hillsborough school transportation discussions

TAMPA — Even by Hillsborough County School Board standards, it was a raucous meeting.

A whistleblower traded insults with board member Stacy White. A community activist warned superintendent MaryEllen Elia of a plot against her. Board members tried to compel Elia to answer questions about a 2012 tragedy.

And, through it all, leaders of the nation's eighth largest school district struggled with the difficulty of getting 90,000-plus children safely to school and home again.

"We all know we have to make improvements," said Elia, who will meet with employees throughout the district in the coming weeks.

After months of town hall and focus group meetings, some problems are widely known: Buses are old. Driver morale is low. Labor issues in the repair shop have chased managers away. The department's chief, John Franklin, resigned last week.

Frustration was apparent Tuesday, in drivers who said they have no voice; and in board members who alternately confronted and defended Elia.

It started near the beginning, when members April Griffin, Susan Valdes and Cindy Stuart voted to require Elia to answer questions that have dogged her since the family of Isabella Herrera sued in 2012, nine months after their special-needs daughter died.

Valdes wanted to know how Elia did not know about the respiratory failure Isabella, 7, suffered on a bus the day before she died. Griffin wanted to know if Elia held staff accountable later for not keeping her informed.

A motion to require a detailed explanation from Elia failed, 4-3. Member Doretha Edgecomb bemoaned "the atmosphere of total mistrust and disrespect" between Elia and her critics.

Drivers streamed into the meeting room after their shifts, responding to a prior remark by Chairwoman Carol Kurdell, that the district should consider privatizing its bus service.

"Don't just kick us to the curb," driver Ruby Shannon said. "We're bus drivers. We're professionals."

Annie Lockley said drivers transport at least 200 students each, every day, and contend with student behavior problems. "We are trained to handle all these situations and we do."

Michael Hadley, the community activist, warned Elia that Griffin and Valdes were trying to have her fired. Griffin denied that on the spot.

Then member Stacy White took a direct hit from Corie Holmes, a transportation trainer who is running for Manatee County Commission and whose complaints helped launch the Hillsborough investigations. Holmes accused White of neglecting his office as he campaigns for a Hillsborough County Commission seat.

"Your people need to hear from you," he said. "And if you can't do your job as a School Board member and hold the superintendent accountable, we won't want you as a county commissioner."

White noted — as Kurdell tried to quiet him down — Holmes' own political campaign.

"If you're elected to that office, and I seriously doubt that you will be, you won't have the opportunity to make statements like that and walk away," White said.

Twice, at the beginning of the meeting and later for the drivers, Elia shared the department's recent history. She said the board and district embraced cost-cutting to get through the recession without laying off teachers.

She said the district tried twice to buy buses in 2013. Board members rejected both plans, a decision they've defended, citing problems with the proposals.

Despite Kurdell's suggestion, Elia said, "I do not want to have privatization on the table."

She assured the drivers, "I know how important you are in this district. I am accepting that we have to work together to reach solutions."

Comments
Two Tampa Bay area students among those facing hazing charges in FSU death

Two Tampa Bay area students among those facing hazing charges in FSU death

TALLAHASSEE — Two students from the Tampa Bay area, sons of an assistant chief for the Tampa Police Department and a New York Yankees vice president, have been charged in the hazing death of a Florida State University fraternity pledge.Christopher M....
Updated: 3 hours ago
9 face hazing charges in death of Florida State fraternity pledge

9 face hazing charges in death of Florida State fraternity pledge

TALLAHASSEE — The death of a fraternity pledge from alcohol poisoning has led to hazing charges against nine Florida State University students.State attorney Jack Campbell filed charges on Wednesday in Leon County Court.All nine will be charged with ...
Updated: 5 hours ago
From the archive: USF St. Petersburg’s long journey to autonomy

From the archive: USF St. Petersburg’s long journey to autonomy

As the Florida Legislature considers undoing the current governance of the University of South Florida by folding the three branches of its system into one entity, here is a look at some Times coverage of the long-running struggle for independence at...
Updated: 6 hours ago
How a small campus grew into an independent USF St. Petersburg

How a small campus grew into an independent USF St. Petersburg

Just a satellite campus many decades ago, the University of South Florida St. Petersburg has managed to carve out considerable autonomy within the arms of the USF System. But a bill moving through the state House of Representatives could undo its sep...
Updated: 8 hours ago
A closer look at graduation rates. How did your school do?

A closer look at graduation rates. How did your school do?

Updated: 10 hours ago
Young Pasco teacher faces cancer with support of students

Young Pasco teacher faces cancer with support of students

NEW PORT RICHEY — At age 28, things were really shaping up for Joel Santos-Gonzalez. Fulfilling his lifelong dream of becoming a teacher, he had just completed his third year at Gulf Middle School."I always liked to talk to people on an intellectual...
Published: 01/17/18
School board member is ‘dumbfounded’ by Times report on Hillsborough substitute teachers

School board member is ‘dumbfounded’ by Times report on Hillsborough substitute teachers

TAMPA — Members of the Hillsborough County School Board reacted with outrage, mild concern or, in some cases, not at all to a Tampa Bay Times report on misconduct by contracted substitute teachers.Responding to the Times article published Sunday, mem...
Updated: 2 hours ago
In major shift, House bill would turn three USF universities into one

In major shift, House bill would turn three USF universities into one

Separate accreditation has long been a point of pride and a stamp of independence for the St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee branches of the University of South Florida.Graduates of those schools frame diplomas bearing the name of their own universi...
Published: 01/16/18
Top Hillsborough teaching honor goes to a Lewis Elementary educator

Top Hillsborough teaching honor goes to a Lewis Elementary educator

TAMPA — The Hillsborough County Teacher of the Year is a self-described "busy, busy bee" who never tires of exploring new ways to help students learn, even if she has to be creative.At 56, Bonnie Bresnyan also is a mentor for the next generation of s...
Published: 01/16/18

Pasco class notes for Jan. 19

Theatre/Art/MusicCenter for the Arts at River Ridge, 11646 Town Center Road, New Port Richey. (727) 774-7382.• The center’s Learn it Live! series presents The Three Little Pigs, at 10:30 a.m. Jan. 24- 25. Pre-K – grade 4. Public show at 11 a.m. Jan. ...
Published: 01/16/18