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Employee concerns surface as schools hire transit expert

TAMPA – Hillsborough County school district transportation training specialists painted a picture of a department mired in low morale and leadership issues in a recent memorandum to school board members.

The troubles got the attention of board member April Griffin, who brought up the memo Tuesday as the board approved a contract with a Maryland-based transportation consulting company to help develop a plan for replacing school buses and to conduct a review of the entire transportation department.

The memo, written by four training specialists, details a list of concerns with the department, including inadequate support and procedures for employees when it comes to handling special education students.

“I hope the consultant talks to all our employees in transportation,” Griffin said. “These are some issues that may or may not be true, but we need to look into it. I want our staff to look into it and I want the transportation consultant to look into it. We need that outside perspective in this particular issue.”

In the memo, the employees wrote that “internal strife and bullying throughout the department has ensued,” and that the department is losing drivers “at an alarming rate due to low morale and/or easily fixable logistics issues.”

They also wrote that they have been advised by their supervisors not to document special education issues, including a specific incident involving a “red alert” student, one who is medically-fragile and needed immediate attention. When asked, his driver did not know if he had been deemed a red alert student, the memo states.

“We continue to be reactive to serious safety matters thus causing us to appear in the news,” the employees wrote. “We lack oversight concerning school bus safety and leadership regarding the transportation department.”

Deputy Superintendent Jeff Eakins said district officials began investigating the incident involving the student when they were made aware of it last week. He added that the district will look into the bullying claim, as well as some other concerns, including a bus wash area that is down.

“We definitely want to do more investigation on those items,” Eakins said.

The decision to approve the contract with School Bus Consultants LLC, which will not exceed $38,500, was made in a 6-1 vote with board member Stacy White opposed.

“We pay plenty of money to have our staff in place to analyze these situations and make a recommendation to the board,” White said. “This is the first year in quite a while we appear to be emerging from tough budgetary situations. I can think of so many other things we could spend that almost $40,000 on.”

Some board members reiterated that they hope exploring alternative fuels can be brought into the discussion in the future.

“I would like us to consider either expanding the contract or doing whatever the purchasing experts think we need to do to think about alternative fuels down the road,” board member Candy Olson said.

School Bus Consultants LLC plan to present a status report to the board on March 13 and a final report on April 30.

Also during Tuesday’s meeting, the board:

♦ Voted to change future meeting start times to 3 p.m. as soon as its March 18 meeting. Currently meetings are held at either 9 a.m. or 5 p.m.

♦ Approved the attendance boundaries for the new J. Vince Thompson Elementary School, which is slated to open at 2020 E. Shell Point Road in Ruskin, in the fall to serve up to 940 students. The board also approved revised boundaries for Ruskin and Cypress Creek elementary schools, where students will be drawn from to attend Thompson.

♦ Appointed two new principals, effective Monday: Dante Jones at Burnett Middle School and Ismael Lebron at Wimauma Elementary School. Jones is currently an assistant principal at Mann Middle School and Lebron is currently principal at Bing Elementary School.

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Twitter: @ErinKTBO

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