TAMPA — Kelley Martin is scared.
Only 10 days remain until her son starts third grade at Gibsonton Elementary School. Martin, a single mom who manages a restaurant in Plant City, hasn't figured out a way to get 9-year-old Johnathon to his after-school program a few miles away.
With Gibsonton Elementary bus drivers vowing to stick to revised routes that prevent drop-offs at the Gardenville Recreation Center on Symmes Road, Martin feels at a loss.
"I'm stuck," she said. "I can't quit my job just so I can pick my kid up. What am I supposed to do?"
That bus stop has been a point of contention between school district officials and Gibsonton parents for years. Officials changed the school's bus route boundaries in 2008, which eliminated the rec center stop. But because parents complained so much that year and again in 2009, drivers relented and dropped kids there anyway.
Those days are gone, said Linda Cobbe, Hillsborough County School District spokeswoman.
Cobbe said drivers had to make two separate runs to Gardenville to accommodate all the kids who wanted to go there. That caused drivers to be late to their next pickup at East Bay High School, she said.
"It's just a matter of responsibility to other students in the high school to get there on time," Cobbe said.
She said the school district would open additional spots in the after-school program at Gibsonton Elementary School for any Gardenville kids who are inconvenienced.
That may not satisfy many parents, said Dave Ramirez, Gardenville's program director.
"Some of these kids have been coming to the Gardenville center for years. They've grown up at our facility from that 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. period," Ramirez said. "It's just a sad situation."
Out of about 140 kids signed up for the afternoon program so far, about 30 come from Gibsonton Elementary, Ramirez said. The center offers homework help, educational clubs, outdoor sports games and access to a computer lab and game room.
Martin, the third-grader's parent, said her son began at Gardenville in kindergarten. She said she knows when he's there, he'll do his homework and stay occupied with friends.
That makes her feel good when she's caught at work until 4 or 5 p.m.
Having her son walk from school would not be an option, Martin said. The rec center is about 2 miles away, but only if walkers head down busy U.S. 41. Because she works so much, Martin said she hasn't made any close friends she could ask to drive her son there.
Martin's not the only one to complain. About 20 parents came to a meeting at the rec center last week to talk about the problem. Martin said they planned to appeal to the School Board, but that she wasn't optimistic.
Cobbe, the school district spokeswoman, said the dropped Gardenville stop is one of many stops cut from bus routes as part of a continuing effort to streamline school transportation. Officials estimate that the plan will save the district $9 million.
This year, school officials dropped hundreds of stops from mostly east Hillsborough schools in areas six and seven. Transportation officials made an automated telephone call to affected parents earlier this summer alerting them to the changes.
Cobbe said parents can also check the district's website, www.sdhc.k12.fl.us, which includes detailed stop lists for each school.
As for Martin, she said she just hopes the district will change its mind for the Gardenville kids.
"What else are we supposed to do?" she asked.
Kim Wilmath can be reached at [email protected] or (813)661-2442.