PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — The first day of school came with some frustrations for many parents who rely on the school bus.
This year, Pinellas County Schools rolled out a new plan to consolidate hundreds of routes to operate more efficiently. However, most of the routes to magnet schools were cut back.
Margarita Kapareliotis and Andrew Sterling picked up their 13-year-old son after his first day of school, but were disappointed because he was dropped off 90 minutes after school was released.
“How do you manage dinner or homework?” Sterling said.
They’re hopeful this will be a better year, but they’re also dealing with another setback after their old bus stop was eliminated.
“Our stop for this middle school used to be closer to home,” Kapareliotis said. “Now it’s about a 15-minute drive to get here.”
They’re not the only family to feel the squeeze, specifically for children in magnet programs.
Several parents voiced frustrations about the extra distance to their new bus stop and the lengthy delays they endured after school was released.
“My kids could walk home safely,” Lindsay Franczyk said. “The walk home now is not safe at all.”
Franczyk’s son and daugher are on two different bus schedules that are one hour apart.
“It’s frustrating,” she said. “I have to drive four miles to get here twice in the morning and twice in the evening.”
Pinellas County Schools said according to state law, the district is not required to offer transportation to magnet schools and the cutbacks streamline the limited number of bus drivers available.
For many parents, a longer drive plus the uncertainty of delays will come with difficult decisions down the road.
“They really need to re-evaluate this soon because we can’t keep doing this,” Franczyk said. “We have to work to provide for our children.”
In a statement, Pinellas County Schools said:
“Pinellas County Schools (PCS) is committed to making transportation more efficient for the 2023-24 school year. The district heard the concerns from families and developed a multi-faceted plan to increase on-time bus arrival for students. Because of the strategies the district implemented during spring and summer 2023 (family ridership campaign, increase in driver pay, recruitment and retention efforts, routing efficiencies and combinations, and changes to arterial stops), PCS significantly increased efficiency on the first morning of school.”
The district is still in the process of assessing bus arrival and departure data for the first day of school. Based on initial review and feedback from schools and parents, it appears that very few buses arrived late for the start of the school day.
PCS will continue to work to improve the on-time transportation experience for students and families. More information about the district’s strategy can be found on its website.