Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

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."

. Fast facts

Principal appointments

The Hillsborough County School Board named these principals Tuesday: Kim Moore, Middleton High School; Frank Diaz, Webb Middle; April Gillyard, Roland Park K-8; Rachel Walters, Shaw Elementary.

Emotions overflow during Hillsborough school transportation discussions 04/29/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 29, 2014 10:50pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Sheriff's office identifies woman shot by Hernando deputies after brandishing shotgun

    Crime

    BROOKSVILLE — The Hernando County Sheriff's Office has identified the woman who was shot by deputies who say she was suicidal when she pointed a shotgun at them on Sunday.

  2. Mike Evans supports Michael Bennett's protest

    Sports

    Bucs receiver Mike Evans was signing autographs for children after Bucs practice on Saturday. As he signed, he talked about Seattle defensive and former Buc Michael Bennett, who last Friday sat during the national anthem and who says he will continue to do so to fight racial injustice.

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans (13) comes down with a catch during practice at One Buccaneer Place in Tampa, Fla., on Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017. LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times 

  3. Bucs position battles; Defining the receiver competition

    Bucs

    TAMPA — The Bucs' top four receivers are etched in granite with Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, Adam Humphries and rookie Chris Godwin.

    Bucs wide receiver Josh Huff makes a juggling catch as cornerback Robert McClain closes in Tuesday at One Buc Place. [LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times]
  4. Pinellas aims to close reading gap between boys and girls

    K12

    Principal Kristy Cantu pored over Sutherland Elementary's test scores last year, looking for trends.

    Pinellas County teachers are being asked this year to pay closer attention to how their lessons might better engage boys. The district has come up with a "gender equity self-reflection" rubric for teachers to follow, with the goal of improving boys' performance in English language arts. [SCOTT KEELER | Times]
  5. Photo of the Day for August 21, 2017 - Trapped Under a Rainbow

    Human Interest

    'Trapped Under a Rainbow,' today's Photo of the Day, comes from Patti Presnell of Valrico, FL.