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Hillsborough County School District hires bus chief from Orlando

Jim Beekman will have to deal with a driver shortage and a fleet that is one of the state’s oldest.
Jim Beekman will have to deal with a driver shortage and a fleet that is one of the state’s oldest.
Published Sep. 10, 2014

TAMPA — Jim Beekman will be the new head of transportation for the Hillsborough County School District, taking charge of a large department coming out of months of turmoil.

The School Board approved his selection unanimously Tuesday.

Beekman has run the Orange County school bus system since 2010. He worked his way through Florida Southern College as a mechanic, said Hillsborough facilities chief Chris Farkas. He joined the Osceola County School District in 1983 and spent 25 years working in the transportation department there.

He taught geometry and coached football from 2008 to 2010 before taking the transportation post for the Orange County School District, which is about the size of Hillsborough's.

Farkas said the committees that considered him were impressed with the improvements he made in Orange County. The industry publication School Bus Fleet credits Beekman for saving the district about $6 million through a reorganization similar to the one Hillsborough's John Franklin carried out in 2007.

Beekman "has a history of creating excellence in his district," Farkas said.

Committee members also were impressed with Beekman's personality, something that will be important as he seeks to win over workers who complained loudly this year about work conditions and morale.

At last count, the department had 50 bus driver vacancies and 25 drivers who were on leave. There is also a shortage of mechanics, and Hillsborough has one of the oldest fleets in the state with 1,400 buses.

The district has ordered 100 new buses and hopes to buy another 100 each year. Drivers hope to see their pay increase beyond the current $11.08 starting hourly wage. That issue is now under negotiation.

In other news:

• The board agreed to fund the county government's Violence Prevention Collaborative for $25,000 over five years. "What affects our community affects our schools on a daily basis," said board member April Griffin, who is part of a county effort that seeks to use a public health approach to crime and violence. "A child cannot have issues at home and then take that baggage, place that at the front steps of the schools and say, 'Teach me, I'm ready to learn.' "

• Superintendent MaryEllen Elia put to rest speculation that the district might sell Jefferson High School for redevelopment in the West Shore area.

"These conversations, like many with people out there in that community, have been ongoing for multiple years," Elia said. But her message is that "those are very viable schools, that we use them, that we have several thousands of students at those sites. … I have never negotiated anything in the name of the school district related to this property."

• Deputy superintendent Jeff Eakins, following up on disappointing survey results about sexual harassment, said students appear not to have understood a question on the issue.

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The survey asked if students at their schools knew how to respond to sexually inappropriate behavior. "Students felt like they don't want to answer for their peers," Eakins said. And "sexually inappropriate behavior can mean several things to several people."

Surveying students annually is one condition in a consent agreement the district signed with the federal government in 2011. Eakins said the district will revise the survey as it increases training to school officials in how to respond to complaints of sexual harassment, which are covered under the federal Title 9 law. He also said the Human Resources department hopes to add a position to address Title 9 issues.

• The board discussed efforts the district is taking to reduce disparities in discipline between white and minority students. A task force has been meeting and the administration this year is stressing school-based success teams that address at-risk students through a collaboration of social workers, counselors and administrators.

• The board adopted its $2.9 billion budget and approved a property tax rate of $7.35 per $1,000 in assessed value. The owner of a $100,000 house with a $25,000 homestead exemption would pay $551.25.

Contact Marlene Sokol at (813) 226-3356 or Follow @marlenesokol.


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