City commissioners want to make it clear to Pinellas County Schools that Dunedin will "fight" for San Jose Elementary students who may have to cross five lanes of State Road 580 to get to school next year.
"If I'm not mistaken, we can't even cross golf carts there," Commissioner Heather Gracy told Mike Burke, route and safety auditor for the Pinellas County School Board Transportation Department.
Burke began with a concession that officials deserved an explanation for a letter he issued to the parents of children effected by a miscalculation of the school system's two-mile radius rule, which only provides bus transportation to children who live farther than two miles.
Burke explained that 20-year-old software used to calculate the walk zone radius from hand-drawn maps did not pick up on the access point at San Salvador and San Helen Drive.
He didn't notice it until recently, when a parent inquired about bus services.
The school system said that next school year, it would discontinue two bus stops, effecting about 58 students and saving Pinellas Schools $28,000 for one bus.
Because of the way the district is zoned, all students living in the area north of Beltrees Street and west of Patricia Avenue, right next to Dunedin Elementary, will have to find other ways to get to school — to include walking across the intersection where Main Street, State Road 580 and Skinner Boulevard converge.
That intersection sees 1,349 cars an hour, according to 2011 figures, Burke said. It would take 4,000 for the intersection to be deemed "hazardous" in the eyes of the state.
"The irony is Dunedin Elementary is right there," Mayor Dave Eggers said.
"No offense really, I'm just going to come right out and say it," Vice Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski, who sits on the School Safety Transportation Committee, said. "Do you understand how crazy that sounds?"
"The irony is ... because of these convoluted lines that are drawn ... then you're penalizing people that could be real close, but you're double penalizing them so they can't get a bus ride to a school that they shouldn't be going to by distance. And then on top of that, you say, 'Oh and by the way, you can't go to the one that's close by, and you're going to go to this one, and you can't get a bus ride, and you have to cross a five-lane road. That's the problem that's kicking up with us," he said.
Commissioner Julie Scales called it one of the "more bureaucratic sillinesses" that she's "heard in her lifetime," especially at a time when "there's a heightened concern for the safety of school children."
Parts of Burke's presentation even left Rob DiSpirito, Dunedin's usually stoic city manager, shaking his head in disapproval.
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Dunedin taxpayers would foot an approximately $34,600 bill in the first year to shepherd children across State Road 580.
City officials estimate three crossing guards would cost Dunedin taxpayers $24,600 a year. The school system neither supplies nor subsidizes crossing guards. The city would also have to work with the Florida Department of Transportation to add a crosswalk with curb ramps, which could cost $10,000, the city estimates.
"Where, really, in the government spending is that any better and any safer for our children?" Bujalski asked. "It's saving you money as a school system. It's costing our taxpayers money now, and the kids are not safer. It makes no sense!"
DiSpirito also pointed out through further questioning that the school system's outdated software program doesn't recognize the difference of crossing kids over two lanes versus five lanes. Anything over two lanes is considered multi-lane in the software, Burke said.
"It would seem that it's an interpretation issue" in the software, DiSpirito said, suggesting a person could "push the common sense override," and "rather than be a slave to criteria ... have the professional ability to interpret the software."
Burke said that Pinellas County Schools did not have the number of buses on the road to cover it.
City officials remained frustrated.
Bujalski then suggested drafting a resolution asking Pinellas County School Board to reconsider its position.
Commissioners unanimously agreed, and suggested DiSpirito use whatever means were available to communicate with the school system.
Regardless of the outcome, Joan Rice, city traffic engineer, is moving forward with plans to add safety features to the crosswalks at the intersection.
"Go fight the fight," Bujalski said.
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