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Sunday, Mar 01, 2015

Hernando school board rejects return of busing for some students


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BROOKSVILLE - Bells will not be ringing earlier in the morning and later in the afternoon at Hernando County elementary schools in the coming school year.

But that also means that students living within two miles of their schools will not be bussed in.

The Hernando County School board voted 3-2 against the "cost-neutral" busing plan during Tuesday night's meeting.

The plan, developed by transportation director Doug Compton, would have saved the school district $600,000 a year. The district would not have needed to purchase additional buses, instead changing bell times for both elementary and K-8 schools, even though the latter would not receive the busing benefit.

The proposed plan would have adjusted start and end times at most schools by between 10 and 20 minutes, according to the proposal.

But D.S. Parrott, Fox Chapel and Powell Middle Schools would have seen a jump in start times from 7:30 a.m. to 9:15 a.m., and end times from around 2:30 p.m. to around 4:15 p.m.

Before voting, board member Matt Foreman said the proposed plan was a "step in the right direction," and to vote against it would be "silly."

"Recognizing our current financial situation, recognizing the fact that we don't have the money to institute it everywhere, to vote this down, it's counterproductive," Foreman said. "This puts us in a position where our elementary schools, at least . have a reduction from two miles to one mile.

"This is the best we can do right now," Foreman said.

Board Chairman Gus Guadagnino did not offer a personal opinion, but asked if the other members had received as many phone calls as he did from teachers and students who opposed the earlier start times.

Board members Cynthia Moore, John Sweeney and Dianne Bonfield said they intended to vote against the measure.

Moore said she was under the impression the changes would benefit both K-8 and elementary school students.

"I agree it's a step in a direction, but I'm not so sure it's in the right direction, and I'm not so sure it's the right message or signal," Sweeney said.

Sweeney said the burden for the later start and end times would fall on school staff, who would not receive extra pay.

"It's really cool to see them pulling together ... but it's a dangerous situation," Sweeney said. "I think we can do better."

Bonfield never wanted to see busing reduced, she said. The entire board is concerned with student safety and bringing back the so-called courtesy busing for students who live within two miles of school, she said.

"But our vision has to drive the budget," Bonfield said, adding if a sales tax increase is passed in November, a portion might be allocated for busing.

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.

Parents of students who lost busing said they are worried about the safety of their young children walking to school. During citizen input Tuesday, Jackie Kaelin, the mother of an Explorer K-8 student, said the parent-teacher association has purchased $360 worth of ponchos for students who have to walk to school in the rain. Weather-related absences and early pick-ups by parents lead to lost time in the classroom, which effects both student learning and the school from achieving an "A" grade, Kaelin said.

Kaelin also said the number of known sex offenders - 53 - in a 2.2 mile radius is of "top concern" to her, as are busy streets, lack of sidewalks and crossing guards.

Though the courtesy busing plan failed to pass, Compton introduced a new busing proposal during a Tuesday workshop.

Board members were interested in learning more about the plan, which would pick up students who are not eligible for busing at non-transportation zones, or "hubs," close to the school.

After dropping off students 20 minutes before the bell, the buses would pick up the additional students at the hubs, and provide a bagged breakfast.

The plan could reduce the number of students walking and biking to school, as well as the number of parents in the drop-off line.

Compton said the plan would be tested at J.D. Floyd as a pilot program as early as May 1, if approved.

The board gave the OK for Compton to keep working on the program, and come back with more information.

(352) 544-5283

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