Hillsborough school bus system 'stressed to breaking point' - WFLA News Channel 8

Hillsborough school bus system 'stressed to breaking point'

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Hillsborough County School Board member April Griffin. Hillsborough County School Board member April Griffin.
HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, FL (WFLA) -

The Superintendent of Hillsborough County Public Schools will meet with the school board Wednesday morning to talk bus options. A new 50-page report cites major problems like aging buses and a shortage of qualified drivers.

According to the report, 25 percent of Hillsborough County school buses are 15 years old. The maximum bus age should be around 12 to 15 years.

"The analysis indicates that the system has been stressed to the breaking point. Either more funding must be provided or service delivery must be constrained. There is no other alternative," said the report.

Superintendent MaryEllen Elia assures parents their kids are safe.

"Right now we have safe buses," Elia said. "We have to make sure we move forward on replenishing old buses in the fleet. We need to continue to focus on what's necessary as we move forward."

Consultants recommend shelling out $11 million or more per year to get back on track.

"There are families across the country who have had to hold back on purchases like cars and other vehicles, we've done the same," Elia said. "We've had buses that are safe, but we have to immediately move so we take care of needs to replenish the fleet."

School board Member April Griffin has been a vocal critic of the district's transportation department. She says the report's findings are not surprising.

"We need higher pay for our bus drivers, we need new buses," said Griffin. "We need training for our supervisors, because of the way that some employees are treating other employees."

Corie Holmes is a trainer in the transportation department. He came forward when he realized there were large issues that needed to be addressed. When asked if the bus fleet is safe, his answer was, "No."

"At this point, I can honestly say, not," said Holmes. "We have a lot of issues to fix. It's not safe."

There's another meeting with school district mechanics at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday at East Bay High School.

The Hillsborough County School Board and Superintendent Elia will discuss the report on Wednesday morning. The controversial findings come after months of speculation. A few weeks ago, the head of transportation John Franklin resigned.

Franklin's resignation came amid a plethora of problems with the district's bus system, including the death of disabled student Isabella Herrera. She died in January 2012, after her family said a school bus driver and aide didn't help her when she stopped breathing on her way home. The family settled with the district for $800,000.

Recently, there have been a number of heated meetings regarding the safety of students on school buses. Those meetings came after some transportation trainers claimed they were told to hide mistakes, suggesting the district has not resolved issues that came to light in 2012.

The meeting with the school board and Superintendent is Wednesday morning at 9:30.

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