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School start times may change to return busing

Published:   |   Updated: March 13, 2014 at 06:38 PM

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BROOKSVILLE - A majority of school board members supported an option this week to bring back busing for all elementary school students living between one and two miles from school, depending on the school.

During a school board workshop Tuesday board members supported a cost-neutral option that would not require purchasing additional buses, and would save the district $600,000 a year, according to Transportation Director Doug Compton.

It would also provide busing for elementary school students between 1 and 2 miles from their zoned schools, according to Compton; however, K-8 schools are not included.

No additional routes would be added, Compton said.

The most controversial part of the cost-neutral option is the changing bell times, and not just for elementary schools.

Under the plan, the start and end times for three middle schools - D.S. Parrot, Fox Chapel, and Powell - would start and end about 1 hour and 45 minutes later than current times.

School-based administrators expressed concern about this at the workshop, saying this would keep students involved in extracurricular activities well into the evening.

J.D. Floyd, Explorer K-8, Challenger K-8, and Winding Waters would begin school 10 minutes later and end 10 minutes later, according to the plan.

West Hernando Middle School would begin school at the same time - 9:15 a.m. - but would end at 4: 15 p.m., or 10 minutes later.

Under this plan, bell times for high schools would start 10 minutes earlier, and end 10 minutes later except for Weeki Wachee High and Nature Coast Technical, whose times would remain the same.

Students in the district's elementary schools would begin school 40 minutes earlier, and end 40 minutes earlier, according to a copy of the plan.

School board members voted more than a year ago to eliminate so-called courtesy busing for students who live within two miles of their zoned schools after the state cut funding for the service.

The policy forced kindergartners and other young students to walk up to two miles to school. Parents have complained that their children have to walk through bad weather and through neighborhoods where sexual predators live.

The district saved about $2 million by eliminating the bus routes, and sold 43 buses for $250,000, district officials said.

Board member Dianne Bonfield said she is only comfortable with the cost-neutral option, which includes busing for elementary schools, but not for Explorer K-8 where the problem is worst.

"I can't spend money that isn't there," she said. "Where's the money going to come from?"

Compton said to add Explorer K-8 would require 14 added runs and 5-7 routes for a cost of $250,000 for five routes for the first year, with $40,000 for each additional route, and $525,000 to fund new buses.

Board member John Sweeney said he cannot support any option that does not include Explorer K-8.

"I've been there many times," he said. "That's an accident waiting to happen."

Board member Matt Foreman said he favors the cost-neutral option with added expenditures coming later. He said the cost-neutral option might not be ideal, or the board's end goal, but it's a good start.

School Board attorney Dennis Alfonso said by statute, if the school board is aware of dangers like those posed through the elimination of busing 2 miles from schools then the school board is obligated to reach out to the county for further safety improvement measures.

The board will revisit the cost-neutral option at a later time for possible approval.

The board recently held a special meeting on the matter to resolve it as early as possible, and place orders for new buses if needed.

Since the cost-neutral option does not require purchasing new buses, that prior deadline is moot.

(352) 544-5271

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