The coming school year is going to require some public education before the first bell rings. The subject will be transportation and the lesson for students living within 2 miles of their school will follow state law: You're on your own.
With little discussion, the Hernando School Board agreed at a workshop to eliminate so-called courtesy bus rides for students and then affirmed its decision Tuesday. A final vote on that budget-balancing measure is scheduled for next week.
School Board member Dianne Bonfield characterized the cost of courtesy rides as money well spent. Her assertion is not in dispute considering it ensures children travel to and from school safely. However, the rides are a luxury the district no longer can afford.
Bus transportation available to more than 2,000 children living within 2 miles of their schools is a necessary victim in a budget that must be reduced by $11 million. The district receives no state reimbursement for busing these children, so eliminating the rides will save an estimated $810,000, though the net reduction is smaller because of a plan to add crossing guards.
The board has debated, but discounted such a cost-savings in past years because of the dearth of sidewalks in many parts of the county. This year, spending constrained by an 8 percent cut in state aid, a continued decline of property values and the expiration of federal stimulus dollars left the panel with little alternative.
To help protect student walkers, the district will add 16 crossing guards, at a cost of more than $100,000, at locations with high volumes of traffic. Still, district administrators said they expect a large number of parents now will simply choose to transport their children. That's where the public education comes in. Between now and the start of classes in August, the district must ensure parents know the transportation is no longer available.
Keeping children safe on their way to and from school remains the imperative objective. But, in the 2011-12 school year, a few thousand parents are going to have to assume a greater share of that responsibility each morning.