BROOKSVILLE — Concerns about students negotiating some of the most dangerous roads in the county have prompted Hernando school officials to make some exceptions to the decision to cut courtesy bus service.
The School Board voted earlier this summer to stop busing students who live within 2 miles of school, saving about $800,000. In three cases, though, the district will provide bus stops for elementary students who live inside that 2-mile radius.
The willingness to bend a little arose from worries conveyed by principals and parents about the lack of sidewalks and the dangers of multi-lane highways, transportation director Linda Smith said.
"We know that the board is concerned about student safety and these are some of things we're doing to put their minds at ease," Smith said.
Here are the locations of the bus stops:
• Nantucket Cove Apartments in Spring Hill. Roughly 30 students from Westside Elementary live in the complex west of U.S. 19, about a mile south of Applegate Drive. The intersection at U.S. 19 and Applegate was slated to get a crossing guard, but the lack of sidewalks in some sections along the highway is the concern, Smith said.
• Spring Ridge subdivision in Brooksville. The neighborhood south of Pine Grove Elementary, West Hernando Middle and Central High schools will get a bus stop for the Pine Grove students, but only for the duration of the project to widen Sunshine Grove Road and add sidewalks, Smith said.
• Two stops for Moton Elementary students who live in south Brooksville, one at Dr. M.L. King Jr. Boulevard and Main Street, the other at Jasmine Drive and State Road 50. The problem here, Smith said, is not just the lack of sidewalks along the two-lane divided highway, but also the guardrail and a ditch along a roughly quarter-mile stretch of Emerson Road that leave students no place to walk.
The district already had an exemption process in place that would allow families whose neighborhoods are affected by construction or divided, two-lane highways to board the closest bus beyond the 2-mile radius.
That's not always practical, though. In the case of Spring Ridge, for example, the closest bus stops outside of the 2-mile radius are farther away than the schools themselves.
None of the new stops require the district to add routes, Smith said. Buses will drop off students at Westside and Pine Grove and make quick trips back to Spring Ridge and Nantucket Cove. The Brooksville stops will be added to routes.
Parents in Spring Ridge have asked why the district decided to bus the elementary children in the neighborhood but not the middle and high school students.
"We feel like they can be a bit more responsible getting to school," Smith said of the older students. "At this point, we're taking care of the little ones."
There is a chance the district could get reimbursed for providing the exceptions. The state is required to compensate districts for bus service within 2 miles in dangerous areas. The criteria are specific and limited, though, Smith said.
Board Chairman James Yant said he was glad to hear the district is being flexible to address some of the most dangerous situations.
"The downside to it is, when you make exceptions, which (other) exceptions are you going to make?" said Yant, who voted to cut the bus service but has expressed regret in recent weeks. "There are problems everywhere on this, and that's my concern."
Smith acknowledged news of the exceptions may cause an outcry from residents in other neighborhoods who feel they warrant exceptions, too.
"What we're looking at, so the other parents don't get real excited, is those areas where students have to cross multi-lane state highways, and Northcliffe Boulevard and Mariner Boulevard aren't multi-lane state highways," Smith said.
The process is still one in progress, though, Smith said. Her department didn't have much time to plan after the board vote, so officials will continue to assess safety concerns case-by-case.
"We're trying to do six to eight months worth of work in six to eight weeks," she said.
Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or [email protected]