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Hernando School Board to consider options to address busing concerns

The Hernando County School District is weighing options for students’ school bus transportation. Costs attached to the options vary widely, ranging from a savings of $600,000 to a price tag of $2.35 million.
Published Feb. 13, 2014

BROOKSVILLE — Since the Hernando County School District eliminated busing for students who live within 2 miles of their schools three years ago, parents have complained loudly and persistently.

During a workshop Tuesday morning, the Hernando County School Board will consider a range of new busing options, most of which would restore busing.

The annual costs attached to the options vary widely, ranging from a savings of $600,000 to a price tag of $2.35 million.

In recent years, few issues have generated as much negative reaction among parents and community members as the elimination of so-called courtesy busing. Many have come before the School Board to express concerns about the long distances young children are forced to walk, the lack of shelter from inclement weather and even the excessive weight of backpacks. They have voiced their fears about the shortage of sidewalks in the county, dangerous traffic and lurking sexual predators.

Board members, after listening to these issues, asked district staffers to bring them busing options.

If board members want to restore busing inside the 2-mile radius, they will need to act fast. Additional buses would be necessary, and they would need to be ordered soon.

"If they want that for the 2014-15 year, I need the go-ahead to put in the purchase order now," said transportation director Doug Compton.

Here's a look at the four options that would bring back busing for all students who live within 2 miles of schools:

• One plan would require 50 additional bus routes and changing the bell times at West Hernando Middle School. It would cost $2.35 million annually, including money for new drivers, support staff and a $1 raise for drivers.

The $1 raise? Compton says that's the only way to attract as many drivers as he would need.

"I'm going to need a way to get 50 drivers and get them fast," he said.

The district would also need to buy 50 buses — an additional one-time cost of $5 million.

It's the most expensive of the options.

• A second plan is much like the previous one, except it would eliminate all busing for magnet school students, regardless of where they live. Instead of 50 routes, the plan would only add 25, resulting in a $1.35 million annual budget increase. But eliminating magnet busing, which receives state funding, would cost the district $700,000 per year, Compton said, so the overall cost difference would be more than $2 million per year. The district also would need to spend $2.5 million to buy 25 buses.

• A third option restores busing for all students within the 2-mile radius of their schools by adjusting bell times. The district estimates this would increase the transportation budget an additional $700,000 annually, plus $1.5 million for 15 more buses.

The biggest time changes would be at elementary and middle schools, where start and end times would be altered between 40 and 105 minutes.

• The final option also changes bell times, and eliminates magnet busing as well. This plan would result in five more routes, a budget increase of $200,000 and the loss of $700,000 in state funding. The district also would need $500,000 for new buses.

The district also will present two other options, neither of which restores any busing.

One leaves busing the same as this school year. The other adjusts bell times to eliminate 15 routes and achieve a savings of $600,000.

"(It's) the status quo as far as who we are transporting, but adjusts bell times to be most efficient," Compton said.

At a December board meeting, Compton presented other busing options, but they would have restored courtesy busing only for certain groups. He said the board directed him to return with options that would bring busing back for all students.

Danny Valentine can be reached at dvalentine@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1432. On Twitter: @HernandoTimes.

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