BROOKSVILLE — Many Hernando County students will have to adjust their alarm clocks this fall.
The School Board on Tuesday passed a measure that will change bell times for nearly all of the district's 22 schools.
The new schedule, approved on a 4 to 1 vote, configures schedules based on the schools' geographic location and will allow the cash-strapped district to cut 15 buses for an estimated savings of $750,000.
Board members acknowledged that new schedules will inconvenience some families. But the budget outlook is too dire to pass up the savings.
"We have a situation where we're not crying wolf as a district," board member John Sweeney said. "Maybe in the past somehow we came up with money. I can tell you it's not there anymore, and we really have to make some tough decisions."
Under the new plan, five elementary or K-8 schools will start 40 to 55 minutes earlier: Deltona, Explorer, Spring Hill, Suncoast and Westside.
Six elementary schools will start up to 30 minutes later: Brooksville, Chocachatti, Eastside, Floyd, Moton and Pine Grove.
Challenger K-8 and Parrott, Fox Chapel and Powell middle schools will see slight changes to start times, ranging from five minutes earlier to 25 minutes later. West Hernando would see the biggest change, starting 85 minutes later.
Central and Springstead high schools will start a few minutes earlier. Hernando and Nature Cost Technical high bell schedules will not change. The first bell at the new Weeki Wachee High will ring at 9:15 a.m.
The measure died earlier this month on a 2-2 vote when Sweeney was absent. On Tuesday, board members James Yant and Sandra Nicholson once again voted for the plan. Chairman Pat Fagan reluctantly switched his vote to yes, and board member Dianne Bonfield again voted no.
Fagan and Bonfield had expressed concerns about the safety of younger students waiting in the dark in the winter months. But that happens under the current schedule in some parts of the district, superintendent Bryan Blavatt said.
Blavatt strongly recommended the proposal, which he has said has near universal support of school principals. He also noted that keeping the current bell schedule would require the addition of five buses for Weeki Wachee High at a cost of $250,000.
"If I didn't think this was good for kids, I wouldn't support it at all," Blavatt said.
At a workshop earlier Tuesday, the board increased the pressure on the district to find savings by turning down Blavatt's strong recommendation to increase the tax rate by 25 cents for every $1,000 of taxable property value. Blavatt made the recommendation to bolster the operating fund for the 2010-11 fiscal year, but board members are loathe to increase the tax rate as the county struggles to recover from a recession.
Pinellas County School Board members on Tuesday also approved a new bell schedule that puts middle school students in class 15 minutes earlier, while delaying start times for some 28 elementary schools until 9:20 a.m. The district expects to save about $2.25 million.
Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.