Hillsborough County schools seek to loosen bus restrictions

The Hillsborough County school district wants to loosen restrictions on hazardous conditions that dictate when students are allowed to receive bus service.

"Look both ways, stop, pay attention to the cars, the cars don't always see the kids," said Danielle Waymire, the mother of an eighth-grader who lives too close to school to get a ride.

Her son, Ian, walks more than 15 minutes, alongside the heavily trafficked Durant Rd., with a backpack that weighs 25 pounds.

"You have to let them walk, and you have to pray that they get there," Waymire said.

Because they live a mile from Mulrennan MS in Valrico, and not two miles, he is ineligible for bus service. 

That is, unless his mom could prove there were hazardous conditions like the lack of a sidewalk, or being next to a road with a speed limit of 50 mph, or crossing streets with more than 360 cars an hour and no stop sign.

The district is starting a PR push to get the state to loosen those restrictions, so more students qualify for buses.

They held a press conference on Wednesday.

"We definitely want our parents to, first of all, hear this message," said Superintendent Jeff Eakins. "We hear them, loud and clear."

The hazardous conditions rules were written in 1973 when the county's population was 490,000. It's now 1.4 million, which means there are more roads, more cars, and more kid pedestrians; 81,900, to be exact.

But even moving the line from 2 miles to 1.5 would cost $35 million a year. 

That's why the district wants the hazardous standards to change, along with how the state reimburses for transportation. Districts are only reimbursed for 40% of their transportation costs.

"This is where safety and the issues around funding collide," said Eakins.

The superintendent and parents ask: How can there be a price?

"It would be amazing to put him on a school bus," asked Waymire. "It is unfair to the students. It is unfair to the parents to have these safety concerns."

The district says it is leaning on state lawmakers to bring up their proposals in the next session. They are beginning to construct a taskforce.