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FishHawk parents resigned to courtesy busing cuts

From left, Randall Middle School Principal Claire Mawhinney and school board member Melissa Snively discuss safety measures with FishHawk Ranch parents Kristen and Shawn Lesh and Lori Sanders.
From left, Randall Middle School Principal Claire Mawhinney and school board member Melissa Snively discuss safety measures with FishHawk Ranch parents Kristen and Shawn Lesh and Lori Sanders.
Published Mar. 12, 2017

LITHIA — Upon the heels of the Hillsborough County School Board's decision to do away with courtesy buses for middle and high school students living within two miles of school, the school district is reaching out to provide parents with alternative ways to get their kids to school.

The second in a series of School Transportation Resource Fairs took place Wednesday at Randall Middle School in FishHawk Ranch, a community where parents have been especially vocal in their opposition to the board's decision to eliminate the courtesy buses.

Like the first fair at Wharton High School in North Tampa on March 1, the FishHawk Ranch event attracted more transportation officials than parents.

"The turnout is awful," said Kristin Lesh, the parent of a Randall Middle School student. "After all of the opposition from FishHawk parents, you'd have thought there would be more people."

"I thought there'd be more parents here tonight," said Lori Sanders, another Randall parent. "But there really isn't much new information. Having people here from HARTline is a joke. The HARTline bus stop is located at the sports complex. Students would have to pass their schools to reach it."

Sanders said she's resigned to having her daughter walk to school from their home in Fish Hawk Trails next fall. Her purpose for attending the fair was to lobby for measures to ensure her 12-year-old arrives at school safely.

"I'm a working mom and can't always be in the car line," she said. "So my daughter will have to walk to and from school carrying a 25-pound backpack and her trumpet. My big concern is the route along Lithia-Pinecrest Road."

She said children will either be forced to walk up the east side of Lithia-Pinecrest where there are no sidewalks or lights or take a chance crossing the 50 mph traffic on the road to reach the sidewalk on the other side. Currently, there are no plans to add a traffic signal or crossing guard at the Fish Hawk Trails entrance on Lithia-Pinecrest.

"It's going to be a nightmare," said Kay Ramnaeyan, who has sixth-grade twins at Randall and a son who will be a freshman at Newsome in the fall. "I'm going to be worried every day about them walking home from school."

With both she and her husband working full time, she plans to drive her children to school in the morning but they will either have to walk home or remain at the Randall after-school program until she can pick them up at 6 p.m.

"What happens when it's foggy or storming? There are no alternatives for students who walk," Ramnaeyan said.

FishHawk Ranch parent Stacy King said she has resolved to drive her three children to their respective schools.

"Lithia-Pinecrest is a dangerous road," she said. "You've got big semis whizzing by at 50 mph and It's pitch black outside when the high school students begin walking to school at 6 a.m. You never see people walking or biking Lithia-Pinecrest now so how can they say it's safe for our children?"

At the same time, she said she's not looking forward to the inevitable traffic increase when like-minded parents begin driving their kids to school.

"Right now, it takes me 25 minutes to drive my daughter to Bevis Elementary School," she said. "I shouldn't have to spend 45 minutes on the road just to get my kids to school."

Randall Middle School Principal Claire Mawhinney said she's exploring ways to handle the challenges posed by parents.

Up until the school board's decision to eliminate courtesy busing, her middle school prohibited students walking or riding bikes to school. Now she's looking into installing a gated bike rack and has scheduled a walking and biking safety presentation from St. Joseph's Children's Hospital in Tampa.

"I'm guessing we'll start out with 150 bike riders next fall so we're looking at enhancements that need to be made to accommodate them," she said.

School Board member Melissa Snively, whose daughter will attend Randall next fall, said she's also lobbying the sheriff's office for a crossing guard at the entrance to the school on FishHawk Boulevard.

"Generally, the sheriff doesn't provide crossing guards for middle schools but that could change," she said. "There are safety enhancements that would make sense."

Snively was the only school board member to vote against eliminating courtesy busing for middle and high school students. She plans to vote the same when the school board hears a similar proposal to eliminate courtesy buses for elementary school students.

Jim Beekman, general manager of transportation for the school district, said that proposal is expected to go before the board in April or May.

"We shouldn't sacrifice the safety of children to save money," said Snively. "There are other things we can cut."

Upcoming transportation fairs are scheduled from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at Pierce Middle School in Tampa March 22, Burnett Middle School in Seffner March 29, Wilson Elementary in Plant City April 5, Stewart Middle Magnet in Tampa April 12, Eisenhower Middle School in Gibsonton April 19 and Chamberlain High in Tampa April 26.

Contact D'Ann Lawrence White at hillsnews@tampabay.com.

By D'ANN LAWRENCE WHITE

Times Correspondent

LITHIA — Upon the heels of the Hillsborough County School Board's decision to do away with courtesy buses for middle and high school students living within two miles of school, the school district is reaching out to provide parents with alternative ways to get their kids to school.

The second in a series of School Transportation Resource Fairs took place Wednesday at Randall Middle School in FishHawk Ranch, a community where parents have been especially vocal in their opposition to the board's decision to eliminate the courtesy buses.

Like the first fair at Wharton High School in North Tampa on March 1, the FishHawk Ranch event attracted more transportation officials than parents.

"The turnout is awful," said Kristin Lesh, the parent of a Randall Middle School student. "After all of the opposition from FishHawk parents, you'd have thought there would be more people."

"I thought there'd be more parents here tonight," said Lori Sanders, another Randall parent. "But there really isn't much new information. Having people here from HARTline is a joke. The HARTline bus stop is located at the sports complex. Students would have to pass their schools to reach it."

Sanders said she's resigned to having her daughter walk to school from their home in Fish Hawk Trails next fall. Her purpose for attending the fair was to lobby for measures to ensure her 12-year-old arrives at school safely.

"I'm a working mom and can't always be in the car line," she said. "So my daughter will have to walk to and from school carrying a 25-pound backpack and her trumpet. My big concern is the route along Lithia-Pinecrest Road."

She said children will either be forced to walk up the east side of Lithia-Pinecrest where there are no sidewalks or lights or take a chance crossing the 50 mph traffic on the road to reach the sidewalk on the other side. Currently, there are no plans to add a traffic signal or crossing guard at the Fish Hawk Trails entrance on Lithia-Pinecrest.

"It's going to be a nightmare," said Kay Ramnaeyan, who has sixth-grade twins at Randall and a son who will be a freshman at Newsome in the fall. "I'm going to be worried every day about them walking home from school."

With both she and her husband working full time, she plans to drive her children to school in the morning but they will either have to walk home or remain at the Randall after-school program until she can pick them up at 6 p.m.

"What happens when it's foggy or storming? There are no alternatives for students who walk," Ramnaeyan said.

FishHawk Ranch parent Stacy King said she has resolved to drive her three children to their respective schools.

"Lithia-Pinecrest is a dangerous road," she said. "You've got big semis whizzing by at 50 mph and It's pitch black outside when the high school students begin walking to school at 6 a.m. You never see people walking or biking Lithia-Pinecrest now so how can they say it's safe for our children?"

At the same time, she said she's not looking forward to the inevitable traffic increase when like-minded parents begin driving their kids to school.

"Right now, it takes me 25 minutes to drive my daughter to Bevis Elementary School," she said. "I shouldn't have to spend 45 minutes on the road just to get my kids to school."

Randall Middle School Principal Claire Mawhinney said she's exploring ways to handle the challenges posed by parents.

Up until the school board's decision to eliminate courtesy busing, her middle school prohibited students walking or riding bikes to school. Now she's looking into installing a gated bike rack and has scheduled a walking and biking safety presentation advocates from St. Joseph's Children's Hospital in Tampa.

"I'm guessing we'll start out with 150 bike riders next fall so we're looking at enhancements that need to be made to accommodate them," she said.

School Board member Melissa Snively, whose daughter will attend Randall next fall, said she's also lobbying the sheriff's office for a crossing guard at the entrance to the school on FishHawk Boulevard.

"Generally, the sheriff doesn't provide crossing guards for middle schools but that could change," she said. "There are safety enhancements that would make sense."

Snively was the only school board member to vote against eliminating courtesy busing for middle and high school students. She plans to vote the same when the school board hears a similar proposal to eliminate courtesy buses for elementary school students.

Jim Beekman, general manager of transportation for the school district, said that proposal is expected to go before the board in April or May.

"We shouldn't sacrifice the safety of children to save money," said Snively. "There are other things we can cut."

Upcoming transportation fairs are scheduled from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at Pierce Middle School in Tampa March 22, Burnett Middle School in Seffner March 29, Wilson Elementary in Plant City April 5, Stewart Middle Magnet in Tampa April 12, Eisenhower Middle School in Gibsonton April 19 and Chamberlain High in Tampa March 26.

Contact D'Ann Lawrence White at hillsnews@tampabay.com.