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Pasco schools may end free bus rides

LAND O'LAKES — The days of free bus rides for Pasco County students who live closer than 2 miles from school could soon be over.

In a cost-saving measure, the School Board has asked the district administration to consider cutting the "courtesy" bus routes that the state does not pay for. The district has about 15 such routes serving all levels of students.

District officials didn't immediately have available the exact number of students that could be affected.

Already, the administration has recommended cutting a route that has served Lake Myrtle Elementary in Land O'Lakes. The finance office has estimated the savings from that change at $20,000.

Assistant superintendent Ray Gadd told the School Board that Pasco is among the five Florida counties with the fewest courtesy bus riders. Still, he said, the district wants to ensure it treats all riders consistently, so his staff is reviewing all the routes.

Gadd expected to have a list of route cancellations available by next week, and to inform parents as soon as possible.

"I suspect you will be hearing about it," Gadd told the board.

Pasco is not the only district looking at cutting transportation costs as a way to streamline its budget. Collier and Brevard counties also are looking at such changes, among others.

Transportation costs continue to rise in part because of the increasing price of diesel fuel. The Pasco district is budgeting $1.2-million more for 2008-09 than in 2007-08 for the fuel.

Board member Marge Whaley first brought up the issue of cutting the Lake Myrtle bus route, noting that the students who have ridden that bus now have sidewalks all the way to school.

Already, Whaley said, she has received complaints from parents that their children might have to walk through large puddles when it rains.

"That's why they sell boots at Wal-Mart," Whaley said.

The Brevard School Board recently decided to charge $2 per student per day if they wanted to receive courtesy rides. The service will be provided on a first-come, first-served basis.

Pasco officials said they wouldn't rule out such a concept.

"It's an option if you've got empty seats on your buses," board member Allen Altman said.

"I wouldn't say we wouldn't discuss it, but we haven't yet," superintendent Heather Fiorentino said, noting that her office considers many of the routes "hazardous" and would not recommend eliminating the free service for those.

During the budget workshop, Fiorentino also informed the board that the district expects to lose another $447,000 beyond all the other cuts from the state. The loss comes because the county's final tax roll fell short of the district's projections.

Staff members will try to find ways to cut the amount before the budget is final. Otherwise, Fiorentino said, the district will have to pull money from its fund balance.

The board has scheduled a public hearing on the 2008-09 budget for 6 p.m. Tuesday.

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 schools may end free bus rides 07/22/08 [Last modified: Sunday, July 27, 2008 9:05pm]
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