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Hernando might shuffle school start times to save busing money

BROOKSVILLE — The Hernando County School Board is about to drive head-on into the typically controversial issues of cutting bus service and adjusting school starting and ending times.

District staffers will ask for guidance from the board Tuesday on two ideas that could save the district as much as $2 million in transportation costs next school year.

One proposal is to adjust bell times to reduce the number of buses on the road.

The other is to end bus service for general education students who live within 2 miles of school.

"My sense of what parents will think is change is never easy or popular," said Linda Smith, the district's transportation director. "It's easier for us (in transportation) to stay status quo, but we need to do our part, too, to keep the district as efficient as possible and keep the money in the classroom."

Under one possible schedule change, nine of the district's 22 schools would have adjusted times. Six of those would start between 15 and 30 minutes later: Brooksville, Chocachatti, Eastside and Moton elementary schools, Challenger K-8 and Springstead High. The other three would start between five and 25 minutes earlier: Spring Hill Elementary, Central High and the STAR Education Center.

The schedule provides for more turnaround time between bells so bus drivers can do double routes, Smith said. The option would allow for 10 fewer buses, saving an estimated $566,000, according to a presentation Smith will make to the board at next week's workshop.

On top of the savings, "The state rewards that efficiency by giving us more per pupil transportation (dollars)," she said.

A second schedule option features more significant changes:

• Zoned elementary schools would start between 25 and 55 minutes earlier;

• Zoned middle schools would start between 15 and 105 minutes later;

• And high schools would start between 55 and 92 minutes later.

Other changes in this option: Chocachatti Elementary, a magnet school, would start 12 minutes later; and Explorer and Challenger K-8 schools would start five minutes later.

Under the current schedule, nine schools have start times between 7:18 and 7:52.

As part of the second option, the earliest bell at any school would ring at 7:55 a.m. It would allow for eight fewer buses and save less money at an estimated $453,000.

But the schedule also addresses concerns some members have expressed about high school students starting so early and elementary schools so late, Smith said. They have cited research that shows high school students are more alert later in the day, while elementary students are brighter-eyed in the morning and tire by the afternoon.

With both proposed options, the dismissal times would be adjusted accordingly to keep the school day the same duration.

Cutting bus service for the roughly 2,100 students who live within 2 miles of school could save as much as $1.5 million.

The district does not get reimbursed by the state for busing a large majority of those students. Districts are required by law to offer transportation to exceptional education students.

The board might also consider setting the limit at one-half mile, 1 mile or 1.5 miles.

The idea has been brought up in the past and shot down when parents and board members have expressed concerns about student safety. Chairman Pat Fagan cited those same worries Thursday when asked about changing times and trimming bus service.

Even with schedule changes, some students will have to make their way to bus stops in the dark during the winter months and they should be the older children, Fagan said. And high school students, he said, tend to need the extra time in the afternoon for extracurricular activities and jobs.

"I know we have money problems, but we also have problems in this county where we don't have adequate sidewalks," he said. "Until we address that issue, as a board member I have a major concern with cutting (bus service) for those kids within 2 miles."

The workshop is slated for 2 p.m. at the district's Brooksville headquarters, 919 N Broad St.

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

fast facts

Fewer buses, big savings

Option one: Adjust times at nine of the district's 22 schools, allowing for 10 fewer buses. Drivers would do double routes for an estimated $566,000 in savings.

Option two: The earliest bell at any school would ring at 7:55 a.m., allowing eight fewer buses and saving less money, an estimated $453,000.

Hernando might shuffle school start times to save busing money 02/24/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 24, 2010 8:38pm]

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