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Alternatives possible for Hernando students who lost bus routes

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Published:   |   Updated: November 7, 2013 at 06:29 PM

BROOKSVILLE - The Hernando school district's transportation department is working to provide alternative transportation for students who had their bus routes eliminated because they live too close to school.

The district is working with the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority, which has helped other counties set up car pool programs and other alternatives.

The district saved about $1 million this year by eliminating busing for students who within 2 miles of schools, a decision board members made after the state stopped funding the so-called courtesy busing.

Doug Compton, transportation director for Hernando Schools, said the regional transportation authority has transportation systems available for students in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, and would like to expand similar systems in Pasco and Hernando counties.

Compton said about 1,200 students in Pinellas and 1,800 students in Hillsborough have benefitted from transportation provided by the authority, based on this year's data.

In Hernando, Compton said about 4,500 students and their families are effected by reduced busing within 2 miles of schools. About 3,000 of those effected are in elementary school.

The regional transportation authority assists in three different areas:

? It works with schools to create a "walking school bus," which the district already has, and involves Parent Teacher Association members volunteering their time to provide added safety to students walking to school.

? It establishes a "bike train," which is a pre-established set of routes, based on safety, for students who bike to school.

? It helps schools establish a car pool service.

The car pool service has most appeal to the transportation department, Compton said.

"Basically, they have a program where they go out to schools and advertise it," Compton said. "Parents can then go online and create a user name, account, and password and say basically what days and how many students they're willing to assist."

The automated program will connect parents within a couple blocks of other parents at the same school, Compton said. Parents' contact information will be provided to others within carpool distance.

The program also applies to day care sites, Compton said.

"They'll actually pair you up with another parent at that day care site," he said. "The good thing with it is it's all parent-driven, so it doesn't take a lot of resources from our staff, which we don't have anyway, but gives them alternatives to students in non-transportation zones, reduces buses and vehicles off the road, and saves resources and so forth."

Compton said his department had a "great conversation" with transportation authority administration, and is working as a district to identify incentives to draw parents to the program.

"There are all kinds of incentives we can give. Like maybe there is a school out there with an additional lane," Compton said. "You can go in this faster lane because you carpool.

"I think it's a great way especially since it's an automated program."

Aside from the department's work with transportation authority, Compton also provided superintendent Lori Romano with a breakdown of how many students are affected by reduced busing, what grades they're in, and cost-estimates for bringing busing back incrementally for students at varying distances from schools.

The board is planning a workshop to look at alternatives to courtesy an possibly brining buses back in certain areas.

"I just broke that down by school for (Romano)," Compton said. "Some schools were higher than others, and from there I'm working on the costs right now, and putting that into a PowerPoint right now for her to have during the board workshop."

A date and time for the workshop has not been scheduled.

Administrators at the transportation authority could not be reached for comment.

mreinig@hernandotoday.com

(352) 544-5271

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