SPRING HILL — One parent wanted to see changes to the Hernando County School District's controversial policy on student busing. A mother lamented how difficult it is to get her child into the magnet program at Challenger K-8 School of Science and Mathematics. Another worried about her son's education at Fox Chapel Middle School. Others spoke about their concerns with exceptional student education.
For nearly an hour Monday evening, superintendent Lori Romano addressed a variety of questions and concerns from a small gathering at Deltona Elementary School during the first of three town hall meetings she is hosting across the district.
It was the first time Romano, who took over in July, had met with the public in this type of format. A few dozen parents, mostly from Deltona, were in attendance.
"I thought there were good questions, and I thought it was really civil and positive for the most part," Romano said after the meeting.
The topics touched on both big and small issues facing parents, individual schools and the district.
One of the biggest issues: the elimination of busing for students living within 2 miles of their schools.
Romano explained the dire economic picture that led the School Board to do away with so-called courtesy busing in June 2011.
She said the district is investigating options for the 2014-15 school year, and noted that the School Board will discuss the issue at its December meeting.
Possible options include reinstating busing for all students — or at least for some inside the 2-mile radius, possibly based on grade level.
A man in the audience suggested another option: returning transportation based on how well a school performs academically.
"We have not looked at it that way at all," Romano said. "It's a new angle."
"That's why we have these meetings," she added.
Romano also addressed a parent's concern about her struggles to get her son into Challenger. The parent, who is also a teacher in the district, said her son gets good grades, scores well on standardized tests and has never had any discipline problems. She wondered why she had to jump through so many hoops.
Romano said that everyone, including teachers, must follow established procedures. She said parents who do not like the procedures and policies can get involved and speak to School Board members about changing them.
She said, however, that she believes all of the schools in the district do a good job of providing for their students.
"We have awesome schools in this district," she said. "I meet with the administrators, and I believe in them and I believe in those schools and the work that they do."
She added: "As a parent, you need to be reassured that wherever you send your child, you're going to receive a good education."
Deanna Earles, a Deltona parent with a child in the third grade, spoke about exceptional student education and the district's cluster school sites for students with disabilities.
"I believe part of the problem is cluster sites and the fact that there is so much pressure on three, four, five schools in this county to house (disabled) children from every other school," she said. "The burden has to come off the cluster sites a little bit more."
Romano responded by saying she understood the critique.
"The most important thing," she said, "is that we make sure that kids receive the best possible education.
After the meeting, Earles commended Romano for her accessibility.
"I don't know if it's because she is a parent, I don't know if it's because she's new, but her accessibility to parents so far has proven very effective," she said.
Several in attendance said they were disappointed that more parents did not attend the meeting.
"I think it's great that she did it," said Kirsten Krienes, who has a fifth-grade daughter at Challenger. "I'm disappointed in the parent participation."
Danny Valentine can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1432. On Twitter: @HernandoTimes.