BROOKSVILLE — The Hernando County School Board on Tuesday took its first look at changing a controversial policy that eliminates busing for students living within 2 miles of their schools.
It's the first time the board has considered alternatives to the policy since it was approved in June 2011 as a cost-saving measure.
District staffers presented two plans that would reduce the district's 2-mile no-busing zone to 1 mile for certain age groups beginning with the 2014-15 school year.
The first option would provide busing for all elementary school students living more than a mile away from school by changing the start and end times at most of the district's 23 schools — in some cases by as much as an hour and 45 minutes.
The second option would enable busing for elementary and K-8 students living more than a mile from school by changing these times and by eliminating busing to magnet schools.
Changing start and end times would allow the district to use its equipment and resources more efficiently, saving about $250,000, said transportation director Doug Compton.
The elimination of busing to the district's three magnet schools would save an estimated $600,000, he said.
Neither option received a ringing endorsement from the board.
In this first scenario, the district would bus an additional 1,309 elementary school students. The district has 2,160 elementary school students living within 2 miles of school.
The second option involves the same changes to bell times, but also eliminates busing for students in the magnet programs at the district's three magnet schools.
That proposal would add busing for an additional 762 K-8 students living more than 1 mile away from school.
The board didn't take action on either proposal.
Many indicated they would like more information, including the cost of bringing back busing for all students. Vice chairwoman Dianne Bonfield, noting that she has never supported the end of courtesy busing, said she would like to bring back busing for all students. She said the district should look hard for the money.
"What better way to spend it than on the safety and the security of our kids?" she asked.
A number of parents and politicians spoke in favor of returning busing for the students, stressing that kids' lives could not be put in jeopardy for the sake of money.
Board member Matt Foreman said that the conversation had to take money into account.
"We have to pay for it," he said. "We have a finite amount of money."
Compton, while he didn't have the exact numbers available, said bringing back busing for all those living within 2 miles of school would cost between $1.2 million and $1.4 million. The district would also need to purchase additional buses, which run about $100,000 apiece.
Compton was directed to produce more busing options to be discussed at a future workshop.
Danny Valentine can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1432. On Twitter: @HernandoTimes.