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Despite tie vote, school times likely to be changed in Hernando

BROOKSVILLE — A new school bell schedule for next year stalled on a tie vote of the School Board Tuesday night, but the plan appears to be on the path to approval.

Superintendent Bryan Blavatt said after the vote that he would bring back the proposal for consideration by the full board at its June 15 meeting. Board member John Sweeney, who was traveling this week and not present Tuesday night, indicated Wednesday he would likely support the measure, though he said he would listen to the arguments of his two fellow board members who voted no.

"I am impressed with the degree of collaboration that went into this proposal," Sweeney said in an e-mail to the Times. "We have the district office, transportation (officials) and school administrators all on the same page.

"At this point," he said, "I cannot envision turning away a savings of $750,000."

The entire board has agreed in principle that tweaking start times saves money by cutting the number of buses on the road. But Chairman Pat Fagan and board member Dianne Bonfield Tuesday night rejected the plan that adjusts school schedules by geographic location and would cut about 15 buses.

Fagan said he shares the concerns of parents who told him they worry about elementary students waiting at bus stops earlier on dark winter mornings. Parents also said the schedule in some cases would mean less time in the afternoon for older students to participate in after-school activities or look after younger siblings.

Though the savings are tempting, Fagan said, "We've got to look out for the child as well."

Bonfield agreed.

"We spend a lot of money in our school system, but I can't think of a better way to spend it than on the safety of our children," she said.

Under the proposal, five elementary or K-8 schools would start 40 to 55 minutes earlier: Deltona, Explorer, Spring Hill, Suncoast and Westside.

Six elementary schools would start up to 30 minutes later: Brooksville, Chocachatti, Eastside, Floyd, Moton and Pine Grove.

Challenger K-8 and Parrott, Fox Chapel and Powell middle schools would see slight changes to start times, ranging from five minutes earlier to 25 minutes later. West Hernando would see the biggest change, starting 85 minutes later.

Central and Springstead high schools would start a few minutes earlier. Hernando and Nature Cost Technical high schools wouldn't change start times. The first bell at Weeki Wachee High, in its first year, would ring at 9:15 a.m.

Blavatt noted that the plan would not make drastic changes to bus pickup times and does not raise prohibitive concerns about safety.

The schedule is the product of input from school principals and has near universal support from administrators, he said.

Of 1,710 respondents to a survey last month, 50 percent said they support later start and dismissal times at the elementary and middle schools; 42 percent said they did not.

Both parents who spoke about the plan at Tuesday's meeting expressed concerns.

Leslie Willis said that her son, a second-grader at Brooksville Elementary student, doesn't get home until almost 5 p.m. The plan would push the school's start time back a half hour to 9:15, further cutting into what little free play time her son has after finishing homework.

"It's seven o'clock before he gets done now," Willis said. "He has no recess and has PE twice a week."

Blavatt clearly grew frustrated when the measure appeared doomed.

"Is it gonna be inconvenient? Yes," Blavatt said. "But ladies and gentlemen, this is a precursor to a lot more inconvenience that's coming down the road. In other districts surrounding us there have been drastic cuts in staff. I'm trying my best as superintendent to provide you with alternatives to taking teachers from classrooms. I gotta have your help. If we're not going to do this, I'm at a loss."

Board members Sandra Nicholson and James Yant voted for the measure. The bleak budget picture requires difficult choices, Yant said.

"If we don't make any changes, what then?" he said. "It's imperative teachers remain in the classroom. We have to do something."

Sweeney said he planned to watch the meeting on tape Wednesday.

"As one board member, I recognize the need to make tough decisions," Sweeney said. "As a board, we have made it clear that we are facing a serious lack of financial resources."

The delay is creating inconvenience for principals eager to create master schedules, and transportation director Linda Smith previously said that she hoped to have an answer by Tuesday's meeting to ensure that she would have enough time to develop new bus routes for next year.

Asked after the meeting if she can wait another two weeks, Smith replied, "I don't have a choice."

Tony Marrero can be reached at tmarrero@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1431.

Despite tie vote, school times likely to be changed in Hernando 06/02/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 2, 2010 8:24pm]
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