The Hernando School Board is staring at potential teacher layoffs, a proposed property tax increase, and a new activity fee for children yet it is unable to pull the trigger on a plan to save hundreds of thousands of dollars.
It is a ridiculous dilly-dally that has extended for three months as the board attempts to alter school start times for the coming year to realize substantial savings in transporting students. A plan to start some elementary and K-8 schools at 7:45 a.m., push back others by 30 minutes and leave high school with only minimal changes failed to gain support from a board majority last week.
With no alternative plan to save $750,000 on the horizon, Superintendent Bryan Blatt said he will resurrect the plan June 15 when all five board members are expected to attend. Last week's vote ended in a 2-2 deadlock due to Board member John Sweeney's absence. Sweeney later told Times staff writer Tony Marrero he likely would support the plan.
That is smart. Failing to economize on transit costs is unreasonable financial planning and trimming expenses should be a prerequisite before asking the public to accept a state-authorized quarter-mill property tax increase to help close a projected multimillion-dollar budget deficit. The requested tax increase is expected later in the summer.
Board members opposing the start time plan, Pat Fagan and Dianne Bonfield, both cited student safety concerns. Worrying about the wellbeing of children is understandable, but their position fails to account for a previous board decision to continue courtesy rides for the 2,125 students living within two miles of their assigned school. That decision, reached in March when the start times debate began, is prudent given the dearth of sidewalks around the county.
Fagan and Bonfield objected because the altered start times would require some children to wait at their bus stops before sunrise during the winter months. What's next? Providing school district escorts from residences to bus stops and waiting there until the bus arrives? Parental responsibility has to kick in at some point and it is presumptuous of the board members to think parents won't be vigilant about their children's safety.
Though we preferred an earlier version of the state time changes — one that allowed high school students to start their days later — principals helped devise the latest schedule according to geographic boundaries. With it, came an additional savings of $300,000 beyond the $450,000 identified in the earlier plan.
The austerity is needed. Legislative appropriations to districts are flat; there are multimillion-dollar costs tied to meeting class-size requirements and by mid-year more budget reductions could be forthcoming. The Hernando School Board does not have the luxury of allowing bus costs to remain status quo. The board should approve the new start-time schedule, allow principals to implement it and, more importantly, begin the task of educating the public on the changes.