Marlene Sokol, Times Staff Writer

Marlene Sokol

Marlene Sokol has worked at the Times as a reporter, editor and columnist since 1988. After launching North of Tampa in 1996, she served first as its editor and later as a general assignment reporter specializing in the suburbs. She now covers education in Hillsborough County.

Phone: (813) 226-3356


  1. A fourth town hall meeting to discuss Hillsborough's school bus system


    As the Hillsborough County school district continues to address problems in its transportation department, people with concerns have another opportunity to speak out.

    A fourth town hall meeting is scheduled Monday, starting 6 p.m. at the Beulah Baptist Church, 1006 Cypress Street in West Tampa.

    The forum is open to employees, parents and anyone else who wishes to discuss the issues with School Board members. Nearly 100 people, mostly bus drivers, have spoken at the first three meetings, and Gradebook posted this account of what they said....

  2. Middleton shuttle bus gets steady use


    An update to the article we posted yesterday about the Middleton High School shuttle bus: The numbers are in and they show the bus is being used.

    Between 13 and 18 students have ridden the shuttle every morning and afternoon since the service started Monday. The Hillsborough County school district is experimenting with the shuttle from the Meridian Pointe apartments across busy Hillsborough Avenue to provide students an alternative to walking - or sometimes dashing - across the six-lane road. An estimated 24 Middleton students live at the complex. Efforts to address commuter safety there have been intense since the death last month of student Norma Velasquez-Cabrera....

  3. Armwood's bill heads for final vote


    Sex offenses at school would get higher penalties under pending legislation by a group of Armwood High School students.

    The “Sexual Misconduct with Students by Authority Figures” bill passed the Florida House of Representatives and the Senate Appropriations committee this week. It goes to the Senate next week. Four Armwood students will go to Tallahassee to see the final vote, according to the Hillsborough County school district....

  4. Fired Hillsborough maintenance worker to settle for $5,000


    A federal lawsuit that alleged politics got a school maintenance worker fired is all but resolved.

    The Hillsborough County School will pay George Olmo $5,000, pending approval by the School Board Tuesday.

    Olmo, 56, was fired in 2012 for giving out petitions in the Leto High School cafeteria to place board member Susan Valdes on the ballot for re-election. He sued in 2013....

  5. School bus chief resigns in Hillsborough County (with video)


    TAMPA — John Franklin's seven-year tenure as chief of the Hillsborough County school bus system has ended, officials announced Wednesday, after months of public complaints about work conditions and student safety.

    In an email, Franklin told the school district's new facilities chief, Chris Farkas, that he was grateful for the chance the district gave him to reorganize the system in 2007. "At this time, it is best that I explore other opportunities. I wish you and everyone else the best of luck," he wrote....

    John Franklin, far right, talks with Westchase residents in 2008 about the school district’s new bus stop plan. He joined the district in 2007.
  6. Bus employees speak out in Hillsborough


    Three town hall meetings have been held so far in Hillsborough County to address transportation issues in the public schools.

    School Board member Susan Valdes hosted the first one in Town 'N Country. Guests could talk about transportation or any other issues that concerned them. April Griffin hosted the second one in Valrico, which was focused more specifically on transportation. Griffin and Candy Olson co-moderated the third meeting in Apollo Beach, with Cindy Stuart attending the second and third. A fourth is planned April 28 at the Beulah Baptist Church in West Tampa.

    So what’s being said?...

  7. Turmoil continues in Hillsborough school bus system as more supervisors quit


    TAMPA — Problems, accusations and resignations continue in the department that maintains buses for the Hillsborough County school district.

    In recent days Willie Campbell, the administration manager for the transportation department, resigned, district officials said. Campbell, 58, joined the district in 1998 and was one of the highest-paid employees in the department at $85,900.

    Tim Seidel, a fleet shop foreman, retired at 61 on April 1. Richard "Dewayne" Bethune, one of the repair shop supervisors, left soon after. Bethune, 51, said it was difficult to manage the mechanics who repair the district's 1,400 buses, and said he did not get support he needed from the district administration. Seidel said he faced similar issues....

  8. Safety measures, student shuttle coming to dangerous Hillsborough Avenue


    TAMPA — A bus will start transporting students across busy Hillsborough Avenue between an apartment complex and Middleton High School in the wake of student pedestrian deaths in the area.

    The service is just one of numerous safety measures under way, said school superintendent MaryEllen Elia, who has been working with law enforcement and highway officials.

    "We want to be as proactive as possible," Elia said at a news conference Thursday, joined by Middleton students and School Board member Doretha Edgecomb....

  9. Common ground -- with one exception -- on Common Core


    It's not hard to find an argument about Common Core.

    Members of the Hillsborough County School Board, who held an informational workshop on the issue Tuesday, didn't even have to leave their conference table.

    In the final moments of the session, member Stacy White announced, "I refuse to be a PR agent for Common Core."

    Espousing the views of many fellow conservatives, White said, "I'm concerned about federal over-reach ... We should be driving this at the local level. When we lose that local control, we get a one-size-fits-all, all-or-nothing model that we have today."...

    Hillsborough curriculum specialists crammed into a conference room to help the board understand the Florida Standards, aka Common Core.
  10. Bus driver complaints continue in Hillsborough


    More than 50 transportation employees of the Hillsborough County school district turned out Monday evening for a meeting in Apollo Beach that this time included four School Board members.

    Candy Olson, whose district includes Apollo Beach, listened and acknowledged that the drivers have not always been served by innovations called for in a 2007 reorganization. And she said she regrets that the district didn't move sooner to buy buses....

    School bus drivers at a town hall meeting in Apollo Beach
  11. Democrats: Traditional public schools are shortchanged as construction funding flows to charters


    TAMPA — Despite the prospect of renewed construction money for traditional public schools, two Democratic leaders insist the state is still giving too generously to charters.

    U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor and state Rep. Mark Danish, both Democrats, stated their case Monday in front of South Tampa's Wilson Middle School.

    "We're here today to report a theft," Castor said. "There has been a theft of tax dollars from our public schools."...

  12. Hillsborough's aging bus fleet is unreliable, departing supervisor says


    TAMPA — Richard "Dewayne" Bethune just quit his job with the Hillsborough County school system, supervising workers who repair hundreds of school buses.

    It's frustrating work, said Bethune, 51, who spent six years with the district. The buses are old. The mechanics are not always up to the job. And, to hear him tell it, the district doesn't back him up when he tries to supervise them....

  13. Elia describes the Hillsborough district's response after a child died


    With a lawsuit pending, Hillsborough superintendent MaryEllen Elia held back from discussing the district's response to the 2012 death of special-needs student Isabella Herrera.

    With the case settled, Elia penned this guest column for the Tampa Bay Times.

    In it, she describes the steps district officials took to document Isabella's medical emergency on a school bus, provide emotional support at Sessums Elementary School and respond to inquiries from lawyers. She also describes the response on the school bus when Isabella stopped breathing, noting that law enforcement determined no crime was committed. Based on medical testimony, she wrote, "there is no conclusive opinion as to whether different decisions on the bus would have yielded a different outcome." Regardless, she continued, improvements have been made in special-needs student transportation....

  14. Transportation Town Hall meeting in Hillsborough


    Parents, employees and anyone with concerns about  the Hillsborough County school bus system is invited to another community town hall meeting Monday night in Apollo Beach.

    School Board members have held meetings so far in Town 'N Country and Valrico, and dozens of drivers have turned out. Separately, the school district has been speaking with transportation employees in focus groups as a consultant takes a broad look at the department.

    Monday's meeting, hosted by board member April Griffin, is scheduled from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Covington Park Club House, 6806 Covington Garden Dr. in Apollo Beach....

  15. One more Parent University is planned in Hillsborough


    If you haven't been to Parent University yet, you have one more chance before the school year ends. A session is planned April 26 from 7:30 a.m. to noon at Armwood High School, 12000 E U.S. Highway 92 in Seffner.

    The free sessions, which also include lunch and child care, are one-stop shopping for anyone who wants real-time information about Common Core, technology programs, college counseling and other topics. The website lists the sessions, and parents are asked to register in advance.

    Parent University is a partnership between Hillsborough County Public Schools, the Alliance for Public Schools, and Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association....