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Schools look into busing options

TAMPA — With parents complaining about school busing changes this year, Hillsborough School Board members Tuesday began exploring new options.

Board members are interested in big-picture solutions, such as a program in Brevard County that charges a fee to bus students who don't qualify for a free ride.

A vocal group of parents still hopes to go back to the old way of doing things. It wants school officials to restore transportation to after-school programs at county recreation centers. The district cut that service to county programs outside a school's boundaries.

One concession was recently made at Gibsonton Elementary. The district has resumed taking students to an after-school program at the Gardenville Recreation Center, which is on the street dividing the Gibsonton boundary and another school.

"It was just a common-sense solution," said schools spokeswoman Linda Cobbe, who said 65 Gibsonton students had signed up at Gardenville.

There's also Brevard's model — fee-based service to students living within 2 miles of their school, who thus don't qualify for state-funded transportation. If a bus has space, parents may pay $1 to $2 per day for a ride.

Superintendent MaryEllen Elia agreed to look into the model. "We'd have to figure out how we would do it, if we are short bus drivers," she said.

Brevard uses a lottery system if more students are interested than there are bus seats. Existing routes are used. Brevard does not add stops for fee-based riders.

Board members also want the county to look into moving after-school programs to schools, eliminating the need for a ride. Elia said county officials are interested in working with the district to combine after-school services in the future, but there are too many children in the programs, now offered separately, and too few staffers to make wholesale changes immediately.

Transportation also dominated a town hall meeting that Elia held at Coleman Middle Tuesday. Parents of Robinson International Baccalaureate magnet program, many from Davis Islands, objected to being required to take their children to a hub dropoff as opposed to a neighborhood pickup.

Letitia Stein can be reached at lstein@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3400.

Schools look into busing options 09/09/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 10, 2008 4:23pm]
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