BROOKSVILLE — Kindergartners in Hernando County will continue to get free water safety classes during school hours, as long as their schools agree to participate in the joint program with the YMCA.
Though superintendent Wayne Alexander had recommended canceling the district's involvement due to its $18,000 cost and the loss of class time, most School Board members said Tuesday they preferred to leave the decision up to individual schools.
"I think it's very important that every school give their children the right to attend this program," said member Pat Fagan.
But for one candidate running for a seat on the board, that wasn't good enough. Gene Magrini pledged to pay the entire $18,000 out of his $32,607 board salary in the event he's elected.
"This is not a luxury, it's a necessity," he said. "I could not live with a tragedy on my head if I was voting against it. And I don't think it should be left to principals to make that determination."
For around a dozen years the YMCA of the Suncoast has been footing the bill to give every kindergarten water safety lessons, said vice president Sue Ball. At five lessons valued at $40 each, the organization contributed around $233,400 last year for 1,167 students to participate.
Some teachers saw that as a valuable exercise while others viewed it as a waste of teaching time, according to a district survey. On balance, Alexander said, the sensible compromise was to let families take advantage of a YMCA voucher to attend the classes on their own time.
But that view came in for stiff opposition from member Dianne Bonfield, who said the program's focus on drowning prevention amounted to essential education.
"Water safety is education," she said. "Yes, the vouchers are here. But what about the parents who don't have cars? We have plenty of those."
Members Jim Malcolm, John Sweeney and Sandra Nicholson said they supported the program, but felt it was appropriate to let schools decide whether to participate. Currently, three schools send less than half of their students, while eight others send 75 to 100 percent.
"I would encourage every parent to take advantage of this," Nicholson said, referring to the voucher program.
For his part Magrini — who faces James Yant in the race to succeed the retiring Malcolm — said he'd follow through on his pledge even though the board agreed to fund the program. His daughters benefited from the program, he said, and other families should get the same opportunity.
In other business Tuesday, the board:
• Agreed to continue the design phase for a new K-8 school on U.S. 19 off Hexam Road, accepting most of the district's recommendations to eliminate about $17-million in costs from the original plan.
• Agreed to develop plans to hire a fourth assistant principal at Explorer K-8 to help manage overcrowding at that school.
Tom Marshall can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1431.