No one on the Pinellas County School Board seems to care, Dunedin officials say.
Their concerns for children forced to cross a busy five-lane road because of the school district's decision to drop bus services next year may not be heard — not unless city leaders can sum it up in three minutes or less, a Jan. 23 city memo from Rob DiSpirito explains.
"My God, if we can't figure out an effective way to communicate to a school board, how do we expect residents to?" Mayor Dave Eggers said during a Jan. 24 public meeting at City Hall. "We should be able to effectively get in front of our representatives."
DiSpirito says that if city leaders can provide information to the school district before the end of the month, then their concerns would be considered for a three-minute slot on the schools' agenda at a Feb. 12 meeting.
The board would defer any discussion for a listen-only workshop on Feb. 21, DiSpirito says in the memo.
Dunedin commissioners, however, have a scheduling conflict on Feb. 12 because of a planned city workshop. And with only a three-minute window, Commissioner Julie Scales said she didn't believe it would be the most efficient approach.
Vice Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski, however, felt the issue was important enough to consider skipping the city workshop. She tried to rally support for a large presence.
"If we don't go to this (schools) meeting, or if we don't figure out a meeting to get on — I can certainly not come to the (city) workshop and go down there — [but] if I go down there by myself, I'm going to get nowhere," Bujalski said.
Commissioners remained frustrated despite passing a resolution asking that the district's plan be reconsidered.
DiSpirito said he would continue to explore avenues that would get city officials more than a three-minute pitch.
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Dunedin officials are incensed because Pinellas Schools is discontinuing bus services for roughly 50 San Jose Elementary students, based solely on a district auditor's decision to correct a supposed computer interpretation error on a student 2-mile walk-zone map.
The district's 20- to 30-year software program, which is up for replacement next year, is now calculating the walk distance from another an access point on the other side of the school, which means the children are left to either find alternate transportation or cross one of Dunedin's busiest intersections, where State Road 580, Skinner Boulevard, Main Street and Bass Boulevard converge.
City leaders called the school board's decision "crazy" and "bureaucratic silliness" and vowed to "fight the fight" for the effected students during a Jan. 10 meeting.
The change saves Pinellas Schools about $28,000 a year — the cost of one bus.
Dunedin taxpayers would also take an unplanned financial punch, to the tune of about $24,600 a year for three crossing guards or up to $56,000 a year to contract bus services, plus a one-time $10,000 hit for safety improvements at the intersection.
Commissioner Ron Barnette closed the Jan. 24 meeting with comments that practically silenced other officials. He described crossing the intersection.
"When people whip through there, they're looking at that light, and the angle of the intersection almost obscures part of that, especially because there's many lanes. You have to look over other cars." he explained. "I cannot, in my right mind, support the prospect of forcing elementary school kids to cross there, any more than a crossing guard. It just isn't safe."
Barnette continued, saying he finds it "unconscionable" that Michael Bessette, associate superintendent for Operational Services, could allow children to walk across State Road 580 "in the name of school safety" and even confirm "the safety of students is the district's primary concern."
"That's just absolutely false, or they should change their position on this."