Dunedin, School District Join Forces in Bus Battle Against State
Dunedin and Pinellas Schools officials are now on the same side in a fight for about 50 San Jose Elementary students who may have to cross State Road 580 to get to school next year. Officials are readying to battle the state.
Dunedin and Pinellas Schools officials are now on the same side of a fight for about 50 elementary students who may have to walk across State Road 580 to get to school next year.
Now city and school officials are preparing to take the busing battle to the state level. And Dunedin's list of allies is growing, City Manager Rob DiSpirito said during a recent commission meeting.
"We've got some ammunition," DiSpirito said.
Dunedin leaders publicly criticized Pinellas County Schools officials for "bureaucratic silliness" in January for their plan to discontinue transportation for about 50 San Jose Elementary students who, as a result, would be made to walk across the awkward-angled intersection at State Road 580 and Bass Boulevard.
The plan came about because a district auditor corrected a supposed computer interpretation error in the school's 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 an added point on the other side of the school, shifting the 2-mile radius enough to effect many students' commutes.
The school system is neither changing the walk zone map, nor agreeing to bus the students regardless of the 2-mile walk zone.
Instead, when city officials had an hour-long opportunity to express their concerns with school officials after a passionate Jan. 24 commission meeting, Michael Grego, Pinellas County Schools' superintendent, and Michael Bessette, operational services superintendent, joined Dunedin's fight, DiSpirito said at the Feb. 7 commission meeting.
"We came out of that with an understanding," DiSpirito said. "There is an interest in working together, shoulder to shoulder, to get that intersection declared hazardous per the Department of Education."
If the Florida Department of Education agrees with Dunedin and Pinellas School officials, that busing is the best and safest way for the children to get to school, the state would reimburse the district for the students's transportation across State Road 580 and the city would not be on the hook for crosswalk enhancements or crossing guards.
What's better, DiSpirito said, is that Dunedin's group of alliances is growing.
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri wrote a letter condemning the idea of allowing students to cross the busy intersection. So did a highly-credited traffic engineer, Jerry A. Dabkowski, who conducted an independent technical traffic review of the intersection in a report, and Michael A. Quill, chairman of the city's Public Safety Committee. (See all letters attached to this story.)
DiSpirito said the traffic analysis report he had commissioned included information that his team and city officials had not even previously thought of.
"I think some idea arose from that report that will be extremely helpful to us," he said.
"I think we can move forward to bundle all of these things together, including the commission's very timely resolution approval from the Jan. 24 meeting, and make our approach to the Board of Education."
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- Dunedin Leaders to Challenge Pinellas Schools on Safety
- Commissioners' Candid School Bus Comments Caught on Camera
- City 'Fights' for Elementary Students Crossing State Road 580
- Students' Walk to San Jose Elementary Could Cross Five-Lane Highway