TAMPA — The new school year will mean a lot fewer bus stops in New Tampa and, it is hoped, more kids hoofing it to school.
At a Hillsborough County School Board workshop Tuesday, transportation officials unveiled the seventh and final phase of their reorganization plan.
In this phase, which also affects Temple Terrace and parts of Lutz and Carrollwood, more than 400 bus stops will be consolidated or eliminated to save money. Some are no longer needed because no one uses them, officials said.
"As populations come and go at our schools, stops come and go also," said John Franklin, general manager of the district's transportation department and architect of the reorganization.
Still, the stops on the chopping block serve close to 200 children in New Tampa alone.
Early changes to the bus system caught many families off guard when they were rolled out in 2007. Some children were stranded at stops, unaware the buses had been rerouted.
Since then, district officials said they have become better communicators, notifying parents through letters and the web-based ParentLink system.
"We're doing our utmost to try and get the word out now," said Franklin. Employees are even stopping by bus stops at the end of the day to pass the word to waiting parents.
And the transportation department is working to head off glitches before they occur.
Case in point: An early plan would have eliminated a bus stop in front of the Portofino apartments in West Meadows. The change was scrapped after the staff at nearby Clark Elementary School pointed out that children would then cross busy New Tampa Boulevard by foot.
The reason for the massive reorganization is financial. The state pays only 61 percent of busing costs, officials said. In the plan's first two years, Franklin said his changes saved the district more than $9 million. Continued savings are welcome at a time when many districts are having to reduce staffing because of state budget cuts.
And there are benefits that could come from students riding bicycles to and from school or walking in groups, perhaps organized by the schools.
"We also have an agenda for students to become healthier," said superintendent MaryEllen Elia.
In VillaRosa, a subdivision north of Lutz-Lake Fern Road, the plan eliminates nearly all school bus transportation to nearby Steinbrenner High School.
There, some students might see cause for a different agenda.
As in, their first car.
Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 226-3356 or email@example.com.