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Some Hernando board members still leery of courtesy busing cut

BROOKSVILLE — It was the kind of declaration that makes superintendent Bryan Blavatt cringe: School Board chairman James Yant, during a workshop Tuesday, said if the board were to hold another vote to eliminate bus service for students who live within 2 miles of school, he would probably vote no.

"I think if we jeopardize a child, then it's not worth $800,000," Yant said, referring to the amount the district expects to save by cutting the so-called courtesy bus service. "If we do something and it looks like it's going to put someone in harm's way, maybe we say we made a mistake and go in another direction."

It was a sign of just how reluctant board members still are about the move, but parents shouldn't get their hopes up.

The wheels have been in motion for a month since the board voted to cut transportation service for students who live within 2 miles of school and the district is moving forward with the plan.

Now is the time for families and the district to work together to maximize safety for walkers and bike riders, Blavatt told the board.

"Not one of us wants to do this," he said. "But if we're going to do it, let's do it the best way possible. We're doing everything we can possibly do to see that it's successful."

The district is working with the Hernando Sheriff's Office to provide crossing guards for 14 of the county's busiest intersections, Blavatt said.

Among them, according to transportation director Linda Smith: U.S. 19 and Applegate Drive; Mariner and Northcliffe boulevards; Linden Boulevard and Lema Drive; and Dr. M.L.K. Jr. Blvd. and Main Street.

Principals are working to map the safest routes to their respective schools and sharing that information and other safety tips with parents, Blavatt said.

None of it was enough to convince Dianne Bonfield, the lone board member to vote against the measure.

"If we're all about kids, we're about getting them to school safely," Bonfield said, throwing Blavatt's oft-cited motto back at him.

More than 2,000 students used the service last year. There is a hardship exemption that will allow students to ride the bus, but it isn't working the way parents hoped.

Instead of creating new stops near their homes, students who are exempted would be allowed to catch the bus at the closest stop outside of the 2 miles.

For residents in Spring Ridge, a relatively new development on Sunshine Grove Road that feeds into Central High, West Hernando Middle and Pine Grove Elementary schools, that means traveling to a bus stop that is farther than the schools themselves.

"It's embarrassing to give an answer like that," Bonfield said after noting that she has received calls from parents in that neighborhood.

The exemption form is available on the district's home page, www.hernandoschools.org, and at the each school.

The conditions:

• Students who live where there are fewer than 10 students who need to cross a state highway (these areas will not get a crossing guard).

• Students must cross a multi-lane divided state highway where the speed limit is above 50 miles per hour and there is no traffic control device.

• Areas where there is road construction along the only walking route between the student's home and the zoned school. Bus service would be provided until the construction is completed.

• A student has a medical condition that requires bus service. A note from a physician documenting the condition is required.

Board member Cynthia Moore said she felt comfortable with the efforts the district and individual schools are making.

Yant, though, said the board should be open to putting courtesy busing back in place next year if problems arise.

In related transportation news, Blavatt noted that the district will be doing a dry bus run on Aug. 17 at the scheduled route times so families can be a little better prepared for the first day of school.

In other action, the board decided to invite two of the 14 applicants for the in-house school board attorney position — the only two who have experience in education law. They are Laurie Dart, currently associate counsel for Pinellas County Schools, and Brian Moes, who previously served as deputy general counsel for Orange County Public Schools.

The board will interview the candidates starting at 10 a.m. Aug. 24 at the district office in Brooksville.

Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or tmarrero@sptimes.com.

Some Hernando board members still leery of courtesy busing cut 08/09/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 9, 2011 8:12pm]
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