BROOKSVILLE — It took months of information gathering and discussion, 15 options, three workshops and two meetings, but the Hernando County School Board's great debate over courtesy busing has concluded.
The result: no changes.
By a 3-2 vote Tuesday night, board members killed a plan that would have restored courtesy busing for elementary school students living between 1 and 2 miles of their schools.
The district's 2-mile nontransportation zone — established three years ago as a cost-cutting measure — will stay in place, despite the concerns of some parents about the safety of their children.
School Board members John Sweeney, Cynthia Moore and Dianne Bonfield all voted against the plan.
While the plan to restore busing was cost-neutral, a majority of board members took issue with its fairness and the substantial changes it would make to school start and end times.
The plan brought back busing only at the district's nine elementary schools; it did not restore any busing for elementary-age students at the district's four K-8 schools.
Sweeney, who has frequently said he wants a plan that includes more students, took particular issue with that disparity.
"I can't exclude a school simply because it's a K-8," he said.
He said he felt the move would be a step down the wrong path.
"Even a small step, if it's in the wrong direction, is still in the wrong direction," he said.
Moore agreed, saying: "I feel like if we're going to do any of them, we ought to do all of them."
Bonfield called Tuesday's vote one of the most difficult votes she has had to cast. She said she feels the district needs to look beyond busing at elementary schools. She also took issue with the proposed changes to bell times.
Many of the district's schools would have seen significant changes to their start and end times, with some schools starting more than 90 minutes later. Some high schools would have begun as early as 7:05 a.m.
She said that the safety and security of students is of utmost importance, but she couldn't support the measure.
"I think we can do better," she said.
School Board member Matt Foreman was the most forceful supporter of the measure.
Foreman said the plan was a step in the right direction and the best the district could do, given its tight financial situation.
He said voting against it was "silly" and "counterproductive."
"It does serve the greater good, even if it's not where we want to be yet," Foreman said.
With the measure voted down, superintendent Lori Romano said the issue now becomes the bell schedule for the 2014-15 school year.
Transportation director Doug Compton will bring back a proposed bell schedule at the April 15 board meeting, and board members can decide to keep things the same as this year or go with the modified bell schedule presented in the cost-neutral busing plan. The modified schedule would save about $600,000, officials have said.
Danny Valentine can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1432. On Twitter: @HernandoTimes.