Sunday, May 20, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Hillsborough school bus fleet overdue for overhaul

It should come as no surprise that transportation consultants found Hillsborough County's school busing system needs an overhaul. The district should heed the consultants' recommendations and move quickly to replace an aging fleet and hire more drivers. With 94,000 students aboard its buses each day, the district should act now to remedy its most significant issues before the next school year.

Underinvestment in several key areas has caused Hillsborough's busing system to become "stressed to the breaking point," according to a report that will be presented Wednesday by School Bus Consultants, or SBC. The consultants said the age of Hillsborough's fleet — ranked 59th in age among Florida's 67 school districts — is of particular concern. SBC recommended that the district begin replacing buses immediately at a cost of $11 million to $16 million a year. If the district cannot afford to buy new buses, the consultants suggested leasing them to avoid triggering "systemic service delivery failures in the near future." The district has 1,064 drivers, including substitutes, to service 1,084 daily bus routes. The consultants recommended the district focus on recruiting and retention to fill the gap. Wage increases across several areas also were suggested.

The report comes during a tumultuous period in the department. The district's transportation chief resigned in April after a steady stream of complaints surfaced around substandard equipment, lack of training, low morale and unsupportive management. Employees, ranging from whistle-blowers in senior training positions to disgruntled drivers and mechanics, came forward to decry department policies and procedures. The district began investigating the department after it learned about the death of Isabella Herrera, a 7-year-old special needs student who died in 2012 a day after going into respiratory failure on a school bus.

For months, School Board members have been listening to the concerns of transportation employees at meetings held around the county. But they said they would wait to take action until they had the consultant's findings. With the results in hand, School Board members need to take action. The department's challenges are many, and the district should address each one. The easiest and quickest booster shot officials can give the department is to buy new buses. The district's fleet has about 24 breakdowns a day on 2.2 percent of daily routes. That's far above the industry standard of 0.5 percent.

The state already has bus purchasing guidelines in place, and the district should follow them. Although Hillsborough has only bought 31 new buses out of a fleet of 1,400 since 2010, it knows well how to procure and dispatch them. It is encouraging that the district appears poised to respond with a sense of urgency. It shouldn't take long for board members to digest the report and move toward the real work of getting new buses on the roads.

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Editorial: Tampa Bay House members fail to stand up to Big Sugar

Editorial: Tampa Bay House members fail to stand up to Big Sugar

Big Sugar remains king in Florida. Just three of the state’s 27 House members voted for an amendment to the farm bill late Thursday that would have started unwinding the needless government supports for sugar that gouge taxpayers. Predictably, the am...
Published: 05/18/18
Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s lawsuit against the nation’s largest drug makers and distributors marks a moment of awakening in the state’s battle to recover from the opioid crisis. In blunt, forceful language, Bondi accuses these companies of ...
Published: 05/18/18
Editorial: A sweet note for the Florida Orchestra’s violin program for at-risk kids

Editorial: A sweet note for the Florida Orchestra’s violin program for at-risk kids

This is music to the ears. Members of the Florida Orchestra will introduce at-risk students to the violin this summer at some Hillsborough recreation centers. For free.An $80,000 grant to the University Area Community Development Corp. will pay for s...
Published: 05/17/18
Updated: 05/18/18
Trump backs off China tariff threat as China pumps money into a Trump family project

Trump backs off China tariff threat as China pumps money into a Trump family project

In barely six weeks, President Donald Trump has gone from threatening to impose $150 billion in tariffs on Chinese goods to extending a lifeline to ZTE, a Chinese cell phone company that violated U.S. sanctions by doing business with Iran and North K...
Published: 05/17/18
Editorial: Activism as seniors helps put Hillsborough graduates on the right path

Editorial: Activism as seniors helps put Hillsborough graduates on the right path

Lots of teenagers are walking together this week in Hillsborough County, a practice they’ve grown accustomed to during this remarkable school year.We can only hope they keep walking for the rest of their lives.Tens of thousands of them this week are ...
Published: 05/17/18
Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s lawsuit against the nation’s largest drug makers and distributors marks a moment of awakening in the state’s battle to recover from the opioid crisis. In blunt, forceful language, Bondi accuses these companies of ...
Published: 05/16/18
Updated: 05/18/18
Editorial: Johns Hopkins All Children’s should be more open about mistakes

Editorial: Johns Hopkins All Children’s should be more open about mistakes

A state investigation raises even more concern about medical errors at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital and the venerable St. Petersburg institution’s lack of candor to the community. Regulators have determined the hospital broke Florida law by ...
Published: 05/16/18
Updated: 05/17/18
Editorial: St. Petersburg recycling worth the effort despite cost issues

Editorial: St. Petersburg recycling worth the effort despite cost issues

St. Petersburg’s 3-year-old recycling program has reached an undesirable tipping point, with operating costs exceeding the income from selling the recyclable materials. The shift is driven by falling commodity prices and new policies in China that cu...
Published: 05/15/18
Updated: 05/18/18
Editorial: HUD’s flawed plan to raise rents on poor people

Editorial: HUD’s flawed plan to raise rents on poor people

Housing Secretary Ben Carson has a surefire way to reduce the waiting lists for public housing: Charge more to people who already live there. Hitting a family living in poverty with rent increases of $100 or more a month would force more people onto ...
Published: 05/15/18
Updated: 05/18/18
Editorial: Voters should decide whether legal sports betting comes to Florida

Editorial: Voters should decide whether legal sports betting comes to Florida

It’s a safe bet Florida will get caught up in the frenzy to legalize wagering on sports following the U.S. Supreme Court opinion this week that lifted a federal ban. Struggling horse and dog tracks would love a new line of business, and state l...
Published: 05/15/18
Updated: 05/16/18