Walking to school is still out, but sleeping in is in for high school students under a pair of public school transportation plans before the Hernando County School Board. Five days ago, a unanimous board wisely said it was not interested in saving money at the expense of student safety.
That would have been the outcome of eliminating courtesy bus rides for up to 2,125 students living within two miles of their schools.
The district receives no state aid for busing those children, so eliminating the rides would have saved at least $850,000, a sizable amount for a district trying to find $4.5 million to meet class-size mandates in the fall. But the lack of sidewalks around the county and the memory of a West Hernando Middle School student killed when she was struck by a vehicle while walking along the edge of California Street in September 2008 correctly trumped any projected cost-savings.
"It's not worth one child's life,'' said board Chairman Pat Fagan.
Indeed. That is particularly true in light of the county Metropolitan Planning Organization's decision to spend $464,000 to add sidewalks and streetlights to California Street to make the area safer. Ending the courtesy bus rides would be counter-productive to those safety investments.
A more palatable plan to cut bus costs is the welcome idea of rearranging school start times, particularly the notion of delaying the start of the high school day by 55 to 92 minutes. Nine of the district's 22 schools start between 7:19 and 7:52 a.m., but the earliest start time for any school will be 7:55 a.m. under the plan supported by a board majority. It allows buses to make multiple runs and will take some buses off the roads for a savings of $453,000. It's a sound plan, even if the cost savings aren't as significant as an alternative supported by board members Fagan and James Yant.
Science suggests high schools should start later because adolescents aren't sleepy until 11 p.m. But there are competing reasons for an early start, such as after-school jobs, athletics and general acceptance of a schedule that sends high schoolers to class in the dark. For instance, a survey of Springstead High School students, teachers and staff indicated a preference to keep the status quo.
But it would be a mistake to believe that employment opportunities will dry up just because the teenage workforce isn't available until 60 to 90 minutes later each day. And delayed start times still would allow interscholastic sports teams to practice during daylight hours and to travel to away games at reasonable times.
Public input is imperative, and the board instructed its staff to hold multiple community meetings before a final decision is made. This is a wise plan driven by economic realities, and students, parents and faculty should embrace it.