Board members to ride school bus to time trip students taking
Members of the Lee County School Board agreed to take a ride on a district bus after parental concerns and local television news reports showed that some students rode the bus for up to four hours every day.
Chairman Steve Teuber and Board Member Robert Chilmonik agreed to ride the bus after reporters from FOX 4 invited them to see the length of rides in Lee County.
“I don’t think we have a transportation issue,” Teuber said. “Of course I will ride a bus, but not for sensationalism or to disrespect any of our busing people.”
Chilmonik also said he would ride the bus, yet an issue has arisen over whether the bus driver carrying the board members will be notified ahead of time.
Lee County School Board Attorney Keith Martin also stressed that members not ride a bus together to avoid any violation of Florida’s Sunshine Laws.
“I will not force myself on any buses,” Chilmonik said.
He also suggested that Superintendent James Browder ride with one of the two members.
“Perhaps we can ask Dr. Browder to go with us,” Chilmonik said. “We will take notes and come back with a report for the public. It will give Dr. Browder and I some time to do a little bonding.”
Browder and Chilmonik often find themselves at opposite sides of debates. Past discussions between the two have grown heated in displays that Vice Chairman Elinor Scricca has characterized as “displays of the level of testosterone” between members and the superintendent.
Browder said he looks forward to bonding with Chilmonik, but that he wants the two to work out their relationship away from the media’s looking glass.
“I do appreciate the opportunity to bond with Mr. Chilmonik. We will discuss a way we can look at this in another fashion, and he and I will work on that and we will determine that without fanfare,” he said.
Teuber supported the two working out their differences.
“I do hope you try to bond harder with Dr. Browder,” he said to Chilmonik.
Browder said the district has never attempted to conceal the fact that some students are on the bus for two hours in the morning and afternoon.
He said 72 percent of parents do not choose a school closest to their home — within the district’s school choice system — and buses have been scheduled with additional stops to make the system more efficient.
“In a choice system the parents aren’t going to choose the school closest to them,” Browder said.
Stops per bus increased from 15-20 last year to 18-25 in 2009. Also, 50 buses were eliminated and the district later reinstated 20, he said.
Scricca said that having board members ride the bus has no effect on the length of commutes.
“There is no concealment here about the long bus rides,” she said. “As far as I’m concerned, riding on the school bus won’t resolve the matter. Riding on the school bus will provide FOX 4 with more ammunition for another week and a half.”