BROOKSVILLE - The Hernando school board further boiled down what a partial return to so-called courtesy busing for students who live within two miles of their zoned schools would look like during a workshop Tuesday.
After hearing part of a presentation by Transportation Director Doug Compton, who compiled a list of six options and cost estimates under the board's direction, school board members came to consensus about what they think would be reasonable busing limits, and for what age groups.
Initially proposed by board member Matt Foreman, the board agreed to have Compton provide a cost estimate as soon as possible should the district decide to bus elementary and kindergarten through eighth-grade students who live more than a half mile from school, and middle and high school students who live more than one mile from school.
"Once we know what that cost is, we have the ability to make a pretty informed decision," Foreman said.
Compton said after the board voted to eliminated the busing due to decreased state transportation funding, the transportation department sold 46 buses for about $250,000.
Now Compton said the district will need to purchase about 50 buses at an estimated $2 million to add routes and drivers on the road.
He told board members Tuesday he will need them to vote to approve a plan within the next two weeks so he can put an order in for the 50 buses, and have them available by August.
"I'm still stuck on the buy high, sell low," said board member John Sweeney. "That's what we've done, haven't we?"
School Superintendent Lori Romano said the board might need to schedule a special meeting in March to hear cost estimates, agree on details, and meet that deadline.
As of Tuesday, the board appeared mostly in agreement that if busing is to be returned, then elementary school students should be given priority, Sweeney said.
The total estimated cost to bring back the busing is $2.35 million, Compton said, which includes a $1 raise for drivers, 50 new hires, and additional support staff.
That figure is only a request of the board, however. Hernando County Schools transports 51 percent of enrolled students, which is 17th highest out of Florida's 67 school districts and well above the state average of 38 percent, Compton said.
The district also spends 4.45 percent on transportation of total district expenditures, or $2.60 per mile of transportation, which is 8th lowest for Florida rural districts, Compton said. Hernando Schools also has one of the highest average bus occupancy rates - 84 students per bus - which is 8th out of 67 school districts, according to Compton. "We are a very efficient department," he said. The board will revisit the issue within two weeks for a potential vote, they said.