TAMPA — Just days before school starts, many Hillsborough parents remain confused or haven't heard anything about their school bus stops.
School officials say families eligible for transportation should have received a letter informing them of their bus stop, many of which changed as the district overhauled bus routes around the county.
But no one knows how many parents out there are like Linda Misner, who qualifies but hasn't received any letter. The South Tampa mother has talked to a number of other families in her Davis Islands neighborhood who remain similarly in the dark.
"If safety for the children is the first priority, they missed on that level," she said, pointing out that school starts in less than a week and families need to arrange for dropoffs and pickups. "You can't plan that late."
With so many route changes, school officials are fielding hundreds of phone calls to the district's transportation center, and say this is more than is typical. And many parents are finding it's hard to get through.
Damage to the phone lines from a lightning strike several weeks ago has made the problem worse.
School spokesman Stephen Hegarty said many parents are satisfied as soon as they learn their bus route details.
"The frustration is if you don't know," he said. "That's completely understandable."
He assured parents that district officials are trying to respond to inquiries as quickly as possible. The district always expects a back-to-school crunch, but the level of angst has been exacerbated with the overhaul of bus routes in the South Tampa, the central city and northwest Hillsborough.
Many families can't assume they'll have the same bus stop as last year, or courtesy transportation that has been offered in the past to students ineligible for traditional service.
Schools have been unable to help answer questions, because they didn't have detailed information about student bus stops. Hegarty said the district is trying to get complete lists to each school, but they may not have the information until late Thursday or Friday.
The timing is unacceptable to Misner, the South Tampa mom. She learned the bus routes for her children during a community meeting, but not every parent could attend. Without clear communication from the district, she said, false rumors are circulating. Some Davis Islands parents believe the district canceled bus service to their neighborhood, so children will have walk across a busy bridge to get to school.
"The kids who take the bus in the morning, they don't even know where to meet the bus," she said. "School's less than a week away. People have to be able to plan."
Or figure it out fast. Monday is the first day of school in Hillsborough.
Letitia Stein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3400. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.