MANATEE -- Parent Jill Schein would normally look forward to the first day of school for her son, a Southeast High School student. But this school year is different.
Schein was told in order for her child to get to school, she would need to drive him to a special bus stop called a hub at Braden River Middle School, nearly two miles from her house.
Its the first time the district has used hub sites. Parents have been told the hubs will reduce the time students spend on the bus by collecting students at a central location. Charter and International Baccalaureate schools were assigned hub sites throughout Manatee for easier pickup and drop off of students, transportation officials said.
But thats small consolation to Schein.
When we started going to Southeast, we were told you have nothing to worry about because busing is handled for you, Schein said about the school outside of her district. Now he has to go to Braden River Middle School (the hub site), crossing a four-lane highway, to get to the school.
Schools Assistant Director of Transportation Sheryl Riker confirmed Scheins son would have to cross Lakewood Ranch Boulevard to get to the hub. The centralized locations are designed for parents to drive to the hub stop, Riker said. The hub sites provide a shorter drive time on the buses, she added. We tried to find central locations, public locations so the students wont be in an isolated area.
The bus rides for Johnson Middle and Southeast (both IB schools) had been too long, Superintendent Tim McGonegal said. We wanted to shorten those bus rides by using hubs.
The school districts transportation department has worked on the plan for the hub sites for a year, McGonegal added.
He and Riker understand parents will need to drive to sites that are far away from their homes. McGonegal said some sites may be adjusted after the first two weeks of school.
At this point, we cannot make any adjustments for the first couple of weeks, Riker said.
For Schein and her neighbor, Barbara Hyde, who also has a son enrolled in Southeast, using the hub sites are the only way they have of getting their children to and from school.
The transportation department heard complaints from enough parents to issue a letter Aug. 16 clarifying the need for the hub sites. In the letter, the district apologized that the hub plan was not clearly explained to parents.
This plan included some students walking to the hub, while others would be driven by the parent or designee. Hubs do not include door to door bus service, the letter signed by the transportation team said.
The beginning of the school year has presented other challenges for Riker. Last week was spent ensuring students didnt have to walk in neighborhoods of sex offenders. Plus they needed to resolve transportation issues for students new to the area.
Be patient with us in the afternoon, Riker said. We may tend to run a little bit late. First couple weeks, just bare with us.
Then she offered some advice for parents: Be at the bus stop 10 minutes before the delivery, she said, in case the buses are early. And young children new to being transported by bus, should be given their address -- possibly keep it inside their backpack, Riker suggested.