Sunday, May 20, 2018
Education

Hernando School District to revisit 2-mile busing rule

BROOKSVILLE — Lucien Bilodeau walked up to the podium at a recent Hernando County School Board meeting with a serious look stamped across his face and a few pieces of printer paper clutched in his hands.

"There are 47 pedophiles and predators within a 2-mile radius of the school that my grandchildren go to," Bilodeau said.

He doesn't dare let his granddaughters, ages 10 and 11, walk the roughly 1 mile from their home to Explorer K-8 School. And since he lives within a 2-mile radius of Explorer, the district does not offer busing.

It's not just the fear of predators that worries Bilodeau. It's the weather. The traffic. The heavy backpacks his young granddaughters carry.

"I feel as though you guys have put them at risk," he told board members.

This kind of concern from parents and family members is nothing new. Few issues have generated more criticism and complaints as the district's decision in 2011 to eliminate busing within a 2-mile radius of schools as an emergency cost-saving measure.

What is new: School Board members now want to re-examine the issue.

At the board's meeting last week, board members directed superintendent Lori Romano to bring them a variety of busing options for students living within the 2-mile radius.

While no timetable is set, plans are in motion.

Hernando transportation director Doug Compton is putting together different scenarios, examining the costs and how many students would be affected.

He will look at how much it would cost to eliminate the 2-mile rule altogether. He will look at what would happen if the district sets the bus boundary at 1.5 miles away or more — or 1 mile, or a half-mile.

He also will look at scenarios that factor in students' grade levels and the possibility of establishing a tiered system.

For example, one option could be to bus elementary school students who live beyond a mile, middle school students who live beyond 1.5 miles and high schoolers who live beyond 2 miles.

"The thinking there is high schoolers should be more aware and more able to walk to and from school," Compton said. "I certainly understand the difference between a kindergartener and a 12th-grader walking 1.8 miles to school."

There's a large number of possible combinations, which is the intent, he said.

"I want to provide some options," he said. "In the past, (board members) were in such dire need of funding they just said let's do away with it."

In June 2011, the board voted 3-1 to eliminate so-called courtesy bus service for students who live within 2 miles of a school to help bridge what was an $11 million budget gap. The decision, which began with the 2011-12 school year, affected some 2,400 students.

The state does not reimburse the district for busing students who live within 2 miles of their school.

The savings have been substantial.

Although there are a few different ways to look at the savings, Compton said it costs the district about $1 million every year to bus students who live within the 2-mile radius.

Romano, the superintendent, said the impetus to bring back the issue came from members of the community speaking to the School Board.

"It's important that we listen to the voices of our community members," she said.

Board member Dianne Bonfield, who voted against the busing change in 2011, said she would vote to switch back.

"As a board, we spend a lot of money, and I don't know of a better way to spend money — whether it's local or state — than on the safety of our children to and from school," Bonfield said.

Board member Gus Guadagnino said he would like to see changes made.

"I believe that there's a health issue involved," he said. "Maybe we can find some money somewhere to do something."

Contact Danny Valentine at [email protected] or (352) 848-1432. On Twitter: @HernandoTimes.

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