BROOKSVILLE — Hundreds of Hernando County families will have to make new plans for transportation to and from school next year.
A reluctant School Board voted 3 to 1 Thursday to eliminate so-called courtesy bus service for students who live within 2 miles of school.
The board made the decision in an effort to close what was a few weeks ago a roughly $11 million budget shortfall.
Board member Cynthia Moore said the decision weighed on her mind all night, and she understands the safety concerns about children walking to school in a county that lacks an extensive sidewalk network. But the district is struggling to find money to bring back more than 100 first-year teachers, she noted.
"If we don't have the money for people to teach (students), what good is it to have transportation to get 'em there?" Moore said. "I don't want children to walk, but I also want people to educate them. I think we're going to have to organize the parents to get together to organize to get the children to school."
Chairman James Yant and board member John Sweeney also joined Moore in voting for the move.
Before the vote, superintendent Bryan Blavatt said the district would form a committee and create a process for families to ask for transportation if their students face a dangerous walk or bike ride to school, "so we could address on an individual basis the problems that might exist there," he said.
More than 2,400 students take advantage of the service, and the district will save about $800,000 by dropping it.
Initially the savings would have been reduced by as much as $100,000 to hire crossing guards for 16 of the district's busiest intersections, but transportation director Linda Smith said Thursday that crossing guards can be put in place and the district will still save about $800,000 by eliminating some additional bus routes.
The district should look elsewhere to save the money, said board member Dianne Bonfield, who voted no.
"I think we are in financial famine, but that does not mean we compromise the safety and welfare of our kids," Bonfield said.
One of the first places to look, she said: the $600,000 spent on additional 10 positions in the magnet and theme schools.
"It doesn't mean we're undoing the magnet and theme schools, it means they're going to have to be creative like everybody else," Bonfield said as a dozen principals looked on from the audience, including at least two from the magnet and theme schools.
"As long as I know there's money there for extras, I'm not going to give up the buses," she said.
No parents spoke on the issue at the meeting, but parent Nanette Asbury sent Chairman James Yant an e-mail before the vote noting how dangerous it will be for students to walk to the new Winding Waters K-8 on U.S. 19 north of Weeki Wachee.
"If just one kid gets hurt as a result of this decision," Asbury wrote, "it will be a grave mistake."
Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.