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Bus service cut pushed back

BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County day cares and preschools that enjoy school bus service right to their doors will have the luxury for at least a little longer.

Hernando schools superintendent Bryan Blavatt plans to meet with day care center owners and directors next month to address questions about how the district notified them of the decision to cut the bus service as of the first of the year. Some day care operators claim they were never told of the change.

The district, Blavatt said, is obligated to address those concerns and extend the service for at least a while longer to ensure that owners and parents have time to make other transportation arrangements. For that reason, the bus service will not end at the start of the next semester on Jan. 9, he said.

He emphasized, however, that the service will end.

"The bottom line is it's going to happen; it's just a matter of when," Blavatt said. "It's not a negotiable item."

Transportation director Linda Smith said she is confident that she and her staff spoke by phone to representatives from each of the affected day care centers, but they did not keep a record of those calls.

"We didn't write down the dates, times and names of whom we spoke to, but I am confident we spoke to everybody," Smith said.

The school district has picked up and dropped off students at day care centers for at least 15 years. Citing concerns about providing that service to private businesses, which should be furnishing their own transportation, Blavatt directed Smith earlier this year to notify day care owners or directors by early October that the service would end Jan. 1.

The district currently provides bus service to about 195 students at 14 day care centers. Cutting the service would allow the district to eliminate two full bus routes and save about $94,000 a year, Smith has said.

At a workshop last week, a majority of School Board members informally backed Blavatt's decision to cut the service. Board member Dianne Bonfield voiced concerns about how the move would adversely affect parents. Member James Yant worried that the district didn't give the centers enough notice and wondered if the service should continue through the end of the school year.

At the regular board meeting later that night, a parade of day care center owners, managers and parents came to the lectern to implore Blavatt and the board to reconsider the move. Yant and Bonfield reiterated their concerns, but the board did not direct Blavatt to reverse his decision.

At least one parent questioned whether Blavatt's involvement as an advisory board member for YMCA of the Suncoast's Hernando Branch motivated his decision because the Y's pre- and after-school programs might see an influx of enrollees. Asked by the Times about that, Blavatt said he resigned from the board at the start of the school year because of concerns about the potential for conflicts in general, not because of the day care issue. He noted that any benefits the Y would see would not benefit him.

By this week, one of the most vocal opponents of the bus stop cut said he was resigned to the decision. Shane Harris, owner of the Learning Tree Day Care in Ridge Manor, acknowledged that it's unfair for the district to provide transportation to some centers and not for some 17 others in the county.

Harris said he is hopeful, though, that Blavatt will give the centers until the end of the school year to adjust to the loss and find ways to provide their own transportation.

"I think that would be more advantageous for everybody," he said.

Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or tmarrero@tampabay.com. Find him on Facebook by searching for Hernando Education Beat — Tampa Bay Times.

Bus service cut pushed back 12/22/11 [Last modified: Thursday, December 22, 2011 5:30pm]
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