The first day of school came late for many Florida school districts as hurricanes swept through the state last month.
At its worst, Hurricane Frances blew winds of up to 110 mph, and the heavy downpour provided 15 to 20 inches of rain for some cities. With many schools opening late, districts investigated the possibility of shortening the school year from the normally required 180 days.
Many districts, such as Palm Beach and Brevard, put off classes until the second week of September. In Brevard, about 40 schools were without power and school bus drivers had to go over their routes to make sure they were drivable. Other districts, like Broward and Hall, saw little or no delays for the start of the school year. Broward buses fought through malfunctioning traffic signals. Buses in Hall County dealt with downed trees and blocked roads.
Besides maneuvering through the streets, buses also faced another issue: fuel. Roy Wright, transportation coordinator for Highland County School District, said there were only about six to 10 days of fuel on reserve, but that Hurricane Charley was more of a problem than Frances. "We were more impacted by Charley. The whole county was without power. Frances brought more water than anything else," Wright said.
DeSoto County School District's transportation director, Linda Kelly, stated that fuel was tight, but that more shipments had arrived by the end of the first week of school. Flooding and road debris did little to stop the normal route of the school buses. "We learned from Charley. There was no damage this time. We tied everything down," said Kelly.
Sarasota County School District was more fortunate than most. Director of Transportation Jody Dumas said the district was not hit that hard. There were no real problems with fuel for the buses and road crews had the streets cleared by the time the buses took their daily routes. Dumas said the only significant change was the extensive use of Sarasota buses to bring in students from other districts that had been damaged by the storm.
Joe Reed, assistant director of transportation and maintenance for the Palm Beach County School District, said damage was not that extensive at his operation. The bus fleet suffered minor damage, as did the facility, but power was the major issue. "Of 170 schools, only 66 had power four days after the event. Florida Power and Light had help from 20 states to restore power to residents and businesses, but everything still isn't good to go yet," Reed said.