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Pasco school bus routes safe from cuts for now

LAND O'LAKES — School bus routes that had been on the cutting block are safe for the time being.

"We're thinking we can make cuts in other ways," superintendent Heather Fiorentino said Thursday.

She didn't offer any specifics.

Fiorentino explained that the administration simply didn't have enough time to evaluate the safety of each of the courtesy routes leading to 27 schools before the start of school on Monday. At the same time, she said, it didn't seem fair to single out the Lake Myrtle Elementary route, which had been slated for elimination in the proposed budget.

"We decided it would only be appropriate to look at the entire system," Fiorentino said.

"We have to be consistent in what we do with all our schools."

She planned to ask the district's traffic safety committee to review the routes and make proposals in time for the 2009-10 school year.

"By next year we will have all the information together and have a thorough conversation about what to do," Fiorentino said.

'It's too late now'

School Board member Marge Whaley, who initiated the conversation about ending bus rides for students who live closer than 2 miles from school and could walk safely, said the delay makes sense.

"It's too late now. Parents have already registered their kids," Whaley said. "You can't say, 'Oh, by the way, you're not going to have a bus.'"

She stressed that the analysis of courtesy bus rides, which served more than 1,600 students last year, needs to happen, especially as the district must find ways to cut millions in spending. But eliminating bus routes should happen deliberately, she added, and not in a rush.

"Safety comes far before money," Whaley said.

Board chairwoman Kathryn Starkey, meanwhile, suggested that the bus route changes might have to come sooner than next year.

"We certainly weren't going to do anything for the next few weeks, and certainly nothing would happen until at least the second semester," Starkey said. "But it looks like we're going to have additional cuts during the school year. So never say never, unfortunately."

Starkey referred to an expected report from state economists that will project deeper than anticipated revenue declines for the coming year.

Any additional losses could lead to even deeper cuts than districts already have put into their budgets for the new fiscal year.

Pasco has slashed its spending plan by $16-million by freezing salaries, delaying implementation of the class-size reduction amendment, eliminating some district-level jobs and more.

Fiorentino and her finance staff are working on a second round of about $4-million in cuts, based on the governor's plan to hold back 1 percent of state funding quarterly, based on previous revenue estimates.

Any eroding of the income stream would require even more reductions, or dipping into reserve accounts, which the administration has been reluctant to propose.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.

Pasco school bus routes safe from cuts for now 08/14/08 [Last modified: Thursday, August 14, 2008 8:49pm]
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