TAMPA — In the weeks following a series of meetings about sweeping bus stop changes, the Hillsborough school district received scores of e-mails from parents concerned about issues such as after-school care, divorce situations and dangerous roads.
The May 14-28 e-mails also include complaints from parents who said they didn't get enough notice about the meetings and wanted more information sooner.
The school district expects to publicize its new bus stops list later this month.
Wrote Heather Nelson of Odessa, "I do not feel that this gives us adequate time before the start of school to know if we will need to make alternate morning and afternoon transportation plans. These decisions will affect a great amount of people."
The district is in the midst of a massive overhaul of its busing system aimed at saving money and improving efficiency. The changes encompass much of South Tampa, the northwest Hillsborough suburbs and parts of the central city.
In some cases, they entail longer walks and fewer options. Many parents urged the district to rethink its plans, including one family who described its situation as "the perfect storm."
Sue Schmidt, a mother of four who lives in Carrollwood's Sugarwood Grove subdivision, discovered her middle-schooler would have to walk along busy Ehrlich Road and cross traffic multiple times.
After a series of e-mail exchanges between Schmidt and John Franklin, the transportation department's general manager, officials decided to send a bus into her subdivision. That made Schmidt happy, but she was still annoyed about the process.
Schmidt now has to find after-school care because county parks with reduced budgets are scaling down their after-school care programs. And the school district will no longer shuttle students to for-profit centers.
"They have given people no time to plan," Schmidt said. "It's just really awful. I know there's change and growth, and with it comes a lot of pain in some cases, but the way they handled this master plan is nuts."
Schmidt suspects many parents still are unaware of the looming changes, despite the district holding meetings at local high schools in May.
The district sent letters home with students detailing the meeting dates. Schmidt suspects many of these letters are still crumpled up in children's backpacks.
The parents who did attend the meetings had a chance to give school employees their addresses, which were typed into laptop computers to determine the bus stop location. If parents were unhappy with what they learned, they had the option of asking for a safety review.
A second series of meetings is planned later this month. Parents can initiate a review at any time.
Parent Kimberly Gutierrez attended one the first meetings at Sickles High School and discovered that her children would no longer be allowed to take different buses home from their magnet schools. Gutierrez is divorced and lives on the opposite end of the county from her ex-husband. To comply with a custody agreement, the children had alternated buses in the past.
Gutierrez e-mailed Franklin, who responded:
"Unfortunately, when a shared-custody divorce transportation program is offered for one magnet family, then it must be offered to all magnet families, and this isn't a level of service this department can continue to provide."
Franklin assured e-mailers that the district has the students' welfare in mind.
"The goal of the reorganization is not strictly about money, rather the goal is about safely and efficiently serving students with the limited amount of time and personnel resources required to move 91,000 students to and from school each day," he wrote to one parent."
Dong-Phuong Nguyen can be reached at (813) 269-5312 or email@example.com.