Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Ruth: School lemons leave a sour and alarming taste

As Hardy once said to Laurel, "Here's another fine mess you've gotten us into."

If you are a parent of a Hillsborough County student, chances are you send the little munchkin off to classes each day aboard a yellow bus without all that much thought the vehicle is quite possibly in worse shape than the Joad family jalopy.

While recent news events ought to give every parent pause that an act of violence might occur on school grounds, the odds of something untoward happening remain very, very, very slim.

That your little rug rat might be riding on a piece of machinery that was maintained out of something closer to Mad Max meets a demolition derby is an entirely different matter.

According to Richard Bethune, Hillsborough school buses are so poorly serviced that some of them barely make it down the road from the shop before breaking down again.

Bethune ought to know. Until he recently quit in frustration, he supervised workers who repair (or not) the school buses.

Indeed, Bethune would rather grow blueberries than deal with the school system's lemons.

The list of particulars is both damning and alarming. Bethune noted that the buses are sometimes serviced by inept, untrained and sloppy mechanics. Indeed, the former employee noted that the repair shop can be a dumping ground for incompetent school employees from other departments. Put another way, your kid could be riding on a bus that was last "serviced" by Gomer Pyle. But wait: It gets more bizarre.

Bethune says parents are blithely putting little Muffin on a school bus every day that might well have been worked on by a mechanic who has been accused of making death threats to supervisors and co-workers.

This is just great. This is just swell. Children are boarding school buses that could have been serviced by an extra from Reservoir Dogs. How comforting.

For his part, schools spokesman Stephen Hegarty noted: "If any of our employees are not getting the job done or are cutting corners, we need to know about it and we will get to the bottom of it and correct it." Now there's some darn fine flacking for you.

In addition, Hegarty said the school system had leaped into action by launching an investigation.

These concerns about the safety of what has become the 59th-oldest school bus fleet in the state have been around for years. And still the little dickenses are being schlepped around on the equivalent of a Yugo, serviced and maintained by a less-than-motivated workforce that could include at least one employee with issues.

Here's an investigation for Hegarty. Bethune brought his concerns forward quite some time ago, and no one in superintendent MaryEllen Elia's office paid him much attention. Why?

Of course this is the same superintendent who claims she didn't need to be consulted about a special-needs student who died after a medical emergency on a school bus — for nine months after the child died. Why then would Elia muddy her busy schedule to get up to speed about a school bus system from Bangladesh?

Not to worry, though. Elia is working on an action plan based on a consultant's report and focus groups.

What? You need consultants and focus groups to tell you your school buses are dangerous? Elia could save some time by spending a day riding her own clunkers. If she cared to.

Ruth: School lemons leave a sour and alarming taste 04/18/14 [Last modified: Friday, April 18, 2014 1:14pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Bail hearing underway for woman accused in Selmon crash that killed three


    TAMPA — Amber Nicole Perera sobbed and hung her head at the defendant's table Wednesday as prosecutors displayed photos of the charred remains of a Tampa family who died in a flaming crash that Perera is accused of causing Thursday on the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway.

    Angela Perera, charged with DUI manslaughter in a crash that killed three on the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway on Aug. 10, 2017, bows her head as she appears in court on Aug. 16, 2017. Circuit Judge Margaret Taylor tells Perera to compose herself or she'll be removed from courtroom. [MONICA HERNDON | Times]
  2. Gradebook podcast: Polk County School Board member Billy Townsend on education reform


    Billy Townsend doesn't mince words. He considers Florida's education accountability system a fraud. He's likened the state Legislature to an abusive spouse. And he does it all in public, whether at the board table or on his blog. A former …

    Polk School Board member Billy Townsend
  3. Wesley Chapel man accused of possession of child porn


    WESLEY CHAPEL — A Wesley Chapel man was arrested Tuesday morning after authorities say he tried to buy child pornography from more than 10 users on a social networking app called MeetMe.

    Ryan Soto, 25, of Wesley Chapel was arrested Tuesday morning after authorities say he tried to buy child pornography from users on a social networking app called MeetMe.
  4. There's a local memorial for Linkin Park's Chester Bennington this weekend

    Music & Concerts

    Because he sang so often, and so passionately, about the trials of pushing through pain and desperation, Linkin Park fans have taken the July 20 suicide of singer Chester Bennington really hard.

    Chester Bennington, left, performs during the MMRBQ Music Festival 2015 in Camden, N.J. Hundreds of Linkin Park fans are gathering to pay tribute to late singer weeks after his death. (Associated Press [2015])
  5. Where to pig out for National Bacon Lovers Day

    Food & Dining

    That's right: Sunday is the national day devoted to all things bacon, National Bacon Lovers Day. Which, really, isn't too different from the other 364 days of the year. But here's a little roundup of some special places to celebrate everyone's favorite meat snack (seriously, even vegans have a grudging respect …

    A creme-filled doughnut topped with maple frosting and bacon at Dough on MacDill Avenue in Tampa.