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Three options on table for Hernando school start times

BROOKSVILLE — If the Hernando School Board decides to change school start times, Lori Sowers can accommodate, even if she doesn't really want to.

"I'm self-employed, so I can adjust my schedule accordingly, but a lot of parents can't," said Sowers, whose son Brandon is in the sixth grade at Parrott Middle in Brooksville. "And the younger kids, especially girls, shouldn't be standing out there so early waiting for the bus."

Sowers was among a handful of parents who showed up to a forum Monday afternoon at the district office to speak to proposals to change school start times and charge a fee for middle school sports participation.

School Board members agreed earlier this year that both ideas are viable ways to cut costs and bolster sagging revenue. They are expected to discuss both issues at a workshop today.

In one proposal favored by at least three board members, zoned elementary schools would start between 25 and 55 minutes earlier than they do now; zoned middle schools would start between 15 and 105 minutes later; and high schools would start between 55 and 92 minutes later.

That option would save an estimated $453,000 and reduce the number of buses by eight. Under another proposal, nine of the district's 22 schools would have adjusted times. The option would save $566,000.

Now, principals have come up with a third plan, and schools superintendent Bryan Blavatt said he would ask the board to take a hard look at it. The plan groups schools according to location and cuts the number of buses on the road by about 15, saving an estimated $750,000. The plan also would shorten the amount of time students spend on the bus, Blavatt said.

"This particular schedule has almost universal support from the principals, which is a good sign because they usually mirror what the parents think," Blavatt said.

Under the proposal, five elementary or K-8 schools would start 40 to 55 minutes earlier: Deltona, Explorer, Spring Hill, Suncoast and Westside. Six elementary schools would 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 would see slight changes to start times, ranging from five minutes earlier to 25 minutes later. West Hernando would start 85 minutes later.

Central and Springstead high schools would start a few minutes earlier. Hernando and Nature Cost Technical high schools wouldn't change start times. Weeki Wachee High, in it first year, would start at 9:15 a.m.

Linna Blevins, who has great-grandchildren in Hernando schools, told staff that earlier start times for younger children combined with dwindling opportunities for extended care programs could prompt working parents to make unwise choices.

"It may cause the younger children … to be home unsupervised in the afternoon," she said.

Earlier this month, the district posted on its website questions to gauge opinion on both issues. A majority of respondents did not support later start times for high schools, and nearly a third said their children could not participate in middle-school sports if the district imposed a fee.

A rundown of the responses:

• Of 1,737 respondents, nearly 40 percent said they support later start and dismissal times at the high schools; 54 percent said they did not.

• Of 1,710 respondents, 50 percent said they support later start and dismissal times at the elementary and middle schools; 42 percent said they did not.

• Of 731 respondents, 49 percent said they would continue participating in sports if the district charged a fee; nearly 33 percent said they would not; 18 percent were unsure.

• Of 734 respondents, 50 percent said they would be able to participate if required to pay a fee of $50 per sport, with a cap on maximum participation fees for families with multiple athletes and/or students who participate in multiple sports.

Last school year, the average districtwide, per-student cost for each sport ranged from $62.43 for boys track to $164.31 for girls basketball.

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

Three options on table for Hernando school start times 05/17/10 [Last modified: Monday, May 17, 2010 11:27pm]
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