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Hernando school board again punts on busing issue

The Hernando County School Board has asked it staff to come up with new options for restoring bus service to some students who live within two miles of their school.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

The Hernando County School Board has asked it staff to come up with new options for restoring bus service to some students who live within two miles of their school.

BROOKSVILLE — Bring back more options — again.

That's the message Hernando County School Board members gave the district staff on Tuesday at a special meeting devoted to the issue of busing in the district's 2-mile nontransportation zone.

For three years, the district hasn't offered busing for those living within two miles of school — a cost-saving measure that has drawn the ire of many parents and some in the community.

After a short presentation, board members instructed transportation director Doug Compton to throw out the three proposed options in front of them and to come back with new ones. By a 4-1 vote, they voted to table their discussion until so they could view the new information.

So far, the board has considered at three different meetings a total of 11 options — two in December, six in February and three on Tuesday.

Once again, the biggest issue is money.

At Tuesday's special meeting, district officials painted a picture of a cash-strapped district, with schools that are badly in need of maintenance and huge looming capital costs.

"The money (for more bus routes) has to come from somewhere," said superintendent Lori Romano, noting that the vast majority of the budget goes toward salaries. "We already know that we're resource poor."

The three options that went before the board on Tuesday had an annual cost ranging from $500,000 to $1.35 million. The one-time capital costs — the price of buying new buses — ranged from $1 million to $2.5 million.

Each plan would have brought back busing next school year for all students at elementary and K-8 schools living more than a half mile from their school, and all middle school and high school students living more than a mile away.

Board member Dianne Bonfield, who has been a supporter of restoring so-called courtesy busing to students living within two miles of school, was very concerned about the district's finances.

"I'm looking at the figures and the money is not there," she said. "I want to see this restored, but I can't buy on credit and that's basically what we're doing."

She said the district's financial position was made even shakier by the Hernando County Commission's initial rejection last month of new educational impact fees.

The School Board will likely consider four proposals at the Tuesday workshop and meeting, all of which are variations on a previous cost-neutral proposal. Compton did not know how much the new options would cost.

While the busing issue has been a frequent topic at School Board meetings, Hernando principals say they actually haven't heard too many complaints. In a survey of principals, Romano said that most of the complaints come from two schools; the rest haven't heard much.

Romano invited all the principals to Tuesday's meeting to give them a chance to speak up about busing. Only three showed.

Powell Middle School principal Jamie Young said her school was hit hard when the district did away with busing, but that they've been able to work out a lot of the issues.

"I think we've made the change and we're adapting," she said. "I think now just isn't the right time."

D.S. Parrott Middle School principal Brent Gaustad said the schools have cut 20 percent in recent years and are extremely lean. He didn't want to take any more resources out of the classroom.

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

Hernando school board again punts on busing issue 03/04/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 4, 2014 5:27pm]
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