BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County School Board member Cynthia Moore does not like the idea of kindergartners walking two miles to and from school.
Nor does Moore believe it is safe to have elementary school children riding bicycles to school through areas with heavy traffic.
Last month, Moore joined two other school board members in rejecting courtesy busing, but she changed her mind during a recent meeting when — in another split vote — courtesy busing was passed. Busing for elementary students who live between one and two miles from school will begin at the start of the 2014-15 school year.
“I (previously) voted against it because I knew I’d be on the prevailing side and could find out if we needed the buses for Westside (Elementary),” which may have to close next year for roof repairs, Moore said. “I was biding my time to get more information.”
Moore, who represents District 5, said she was not contacted by parents about the issue, but understood their worries.
“Two miles is a long way to walk a kindergartner,” she said. “It could take them an hour and a half to get to school and back, and that’s too far for those little kids. Plus, it’s too dangerous for them to ride their bikes” in some areas.
Board member Matt Foreman and board Chairman Gus Guadagnino voted with Moore, while Dianne Bonfield and John Sweeney dissented.
Besides easing the transportation burden on families, school district Transportation Director Doug Compton said courtesy busing, coupled with a revised bell schedule for next year, could help save the district an estimated $600,000 annually.
“It’s a more efficient use of equipment and resources,” Compton said.
Busing for students who live within two miles of schools was eliminated more than a year ago after the state cut funding for the service. The district saved about $2 million, and sold 43 buses for about $250,000.
The busing had been contentious, as several options were debated in meetings and workshops throughout the school year.
Moore’s change of heart put a smile on the face of Jimmy Lodato, a candidate for a seat on the Hernando County Commission, who for months had implored the school board to implement courtesy busing.
“I said to the board straight out: ‘What if I took your cars away and you had to walk to this meeting, then walk home?’” said Lodato, a retired entrepreneur. “The same with work. I asked them how they would feel, and they got quiet. When did money become more important than children’s lives?”
Lodato, whose adult children are educators in Tampa and Memphis, Tenn., said he was “thrilled” that Moore changed her vote.
“People talk about bringing more jobs (to Hernando), but people won’t come here unless our schools are in good shape,” Lodato said. “That’s why I go to these meetings.
“I want these kids to have a great future.”