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Hernando School Board asks for more busing options

The Hernando County School District is weighing options for students’ school bus transportation.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

The Hernando County School District is weighing options for students’ school bus transportation.

BROOKSVILLE — Doug Compton made it through only a couple of his proposed busing options at Tuesday afternoon's Hernando County School Board workshop before board members hit the brakes.

The choices weren't exactly what they had in mind.

Board members directed Compton, the district's transportation director, back to the drawing board and told him to return with a new proposal that would restore busing for some students living within a 2-mile radius of their schools — but not all of them. Four proposals brought to the board Tuesday would restore busing for all students living within 2 miles, except two of those proposals would not bring back busing for magnet schools. One of the most frequent complaints to School Board members in recent years has been the lack of busing within 2 miles.

Two other proposals would not have restored busing for any of the students within 2 miles.

School Board member Matt Foreman took issue with the plans that restored busing for all students, regardless of distance. "If you can see the school, you can still get a bus," he said. "That sounds foolish, doesn't it?" Foreman said he didn't believe transporting students who live that close to a school would be the "best use of our money or the kids' time." He also said he doubted the district could come up with enough money to bus all students. His suggestion: a partial return of busing.

"I think there's probably a hybrid that probably makes the best sense," he said.

Board members generally indicated it was most important to them to restore busing for elementary students. "I think that priority No. 1 is our elementary kids," said board Chairman Gus Guadagnino. "They're in the rain; they're walking on roads that don't have sidewalks."

Once the district has looked at transportation for those students, he said, others could be considered.

"If we find more money, let's move to the next notch," Guadagnino said.

The board asked Compton and the transportation staff to bring back a proposal that would restore busing for elementary and K-8 students living at least a half-mile from their schools and for middle and high school students living at least 1 mile away.

The board will likely address these issues in a special session next month because a decision must be made soon if it's to be implemented for the 2014-15 school year.

Compton didn't have specifics on what the plan might cost.

"I'm going to see how creative with bell times I can get," he said, referring to the time the school day begins and ends. "There may be more changes in bell times."

Since courtesy busing ended three years ago in an effort to save money, few issues have sparked more outrage. Many have come before the School Board to express concerns about the long distances young children are forced to walk, the lack of shelter from inclement weather and even the excessive weight of backpacks. They have voiced their fears about the shortage of sidewalks in the county, dangerous traffic and lurking sexual predators.

The six plans brought forward on Tuesday varied widely in impact — and cost. The annual costs ranged from a savings of $600,000 to a price tag of $2.35 million. Four of the plans came with changes to school bell times.

At a December board meeting, Compton presented other busing options, but they would have restored courtesy busing only for certain groups. He said the board directed him to return with options that would bring busing back for all students.

Danny Valentine can be reached at dvalentine@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1432. On Twitter: @HernandoTimes.

Hernando School Board asks for more busing options 02/18/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 18, 2014 7:08pm]
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