School Board member Cynthia Moore finally executed a U-turn that made sense. Moore changed directions for the third time last week and joined a Hernando School Board majority in approving a plan to bus an additional 1,300 children to and from elementary schools next year.
The transportation plan, referred to as a revenue-neutral option, allows the district to bus all children living more than a mile from nine elementary schools at no added cost. It's a sensible decision by the board to bolster safety without requiring potential cuts elsewhere in the budget.
Under state law, the district is reimbursed only for the expense of busing children living at least two miles from their schools. The district formerly provided bus service as a courtesy to children living within the two-mile boundary, but scrapped it in 2011 amid a multimillion-dollar budget shortfall. Restoring service is a nearly annual topic of conversation among board members because so many streets across the county lack sidewalks.
Moore, facing a re-election challenge from three announced opponents, took a circuitous route to her May 6 vote. In a March workshop, after months of discussions on expanding bus service, a board majority blessed the revenue-neutral option that also included changing school start and ending times to give buses added time to run three routes each day. Board members John Sweeney and Dianne Bonfield objected because the bus plan left out the district's four K-8 schools. Board members Matt Foreman and Gus Guadagnino consistently supported the proposal.
On April 1, however, Moore reversed herself, saying there was insufficient time to make the necessary changes prior to the start of the school year in August. The plan failed 3-2. Curiously, just two weeks later, a constrained calendar no longer mattered. Moore supported the now separated plan to change the school start and finish times to realize a $600,000 savings in the transportation budget. It spurred justifiable public criticism since it meant new inconveniences for some families without the offsetting benefit of improved safety for younger children.
Moore completed her convolution last week and offered up some revisionist history along the way. She told the rest of the board her prior vote had been tied to whether buses would be needed for the Westside Elementary School that faces renovations and a potential temporary closing. Funny, but that topic never came up April 1. Whether she based her final vote on a thoughtful review or political expediency, Moore did come to the correct conclusion.
Adding bus service for 1,300 children, with no net cost to the district, is a smart plan driven by economic realities. And, a nearly $2 million windfall from the state Legislature may allow the board to eventually return courtesy bus service to all Hernando students. In the meantime, keeping more children safe on their way to and from school is an imperative mission. Moore was correct to join Foreman and Guadagnino in embracing it.