TAMPA, Florida - As the School District of Hillsborough County prepares to move forward with its first bus purchase in years, 10 Investigates is revealing new details of how a pair of 2013 purchase proposals were doomed by sloppy details and an infusion of politics.
"The biggest frustration has been the kicking of the can," said school board member Stacy White, a father of three. "We had a chance to (start buying buses) last summer, (but) here we are almost a year later."
White was the only board member to cast a vote approving each of the two proposals that came before the board. He was also in the minority voting against hiring a consultant for nearly $50,000 to study the district's fleet of more than 1,000 buses.
Last week, the consultant reported the district's bus program was a victim of "gross under-investment" and needed 349 new buses. It also reported dozens are breaking down every single day, although children were rarely - if ever - endangered.
Yet, White says the consultant should have never been hired:
"I was certainly ready to sit down, make a decision, choose a brand of bus, and move forward with the purchase."
But insiders say local lobbyist, Ed Turanchik, a former county commissioner and mayoral candidate, was the leading advocate to vote down the first project. When his client, Blue Bird, was considered for a bid a month later, the topic was already so politicized, board members scrapped all bus purchasing plans and instead hired a consultant.
"There were also, yes, some lobbyists saying, 'Oh, these people were wrong,' or, 'Oh, these people are lying' - that was a distraction, but it wasn't the real issue," board member Candy Olson said. "It's better to do something slowly and get it right than to rush through, and a year later say, 'Gee, i wish we did something differently.' "
The board will meet again Wednesday morning to move forward on a new plan to purchase buses, but even if a contract was signed immediately, its unlikely any would be ready for the start of the 2014-15 school year.