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To save money, Hernando makes last-minute changes in school times

Published Aug. 2, 2012

BROOKSVILLE — With less than three weeks until the first day of school, the Hernando County School Board voted Tuesday night to dramatically realign school start and end times in order to streamline the district's bus routes.

The move, which will help save the district an estimated $888,000, passed 4-0, with little discussion from the board. It was the first time the issue had been brought up publicly.

Nine schools will see their times change by more than 30 minutes. Five will change by more than 90 minutes, and nearly every school will see some schedule change.

Superintendent Bryan Blavatt apologized for the late notice, but said the changes were a long time coming and that the savings and increase in efficiency were too much to ignore.

"The bottom line is this is something that should have been done 10 years ago," Blavatt said.

Although board members said they had been contacted by numerous people about the changes, few showed up at Tuesday night's meeting. Only two people, both parents, spoke against the change. A third asked if the board had first considered the research showing that teenagers perform better with later start times.

Rhonda Phillipson, who has a daughter at Weeki Wachee High School, was visibly upset by the move and worried for her child's safety.

She said U.S. 19, where the school is located, is dangerous in the early morning hours. She said there are no sidewalks, no lights and that people routinely travel 80 mph down the road.

"It's a very dangerous situation," Phillipson said. "Please reconsider."

Blavatt said the changes were for the greater good of the district.

"The pervasive thing here is that when we make decisions on transportation, we have do to it on the basis of what's good for all students in the district — what's the best thing," he said before the meeting.

Blavatt said there was a huge need to fix the times.

"We had times all over the place," he said. "It really created some difficulty."

Weeki Wachee High will see the most dramatic change of any school, beginning 105 minutes earlier than last year. Deltona, Spring Hill, Suncoast and Westside elementary schools will all begin 90 minutes earlier.

The changes are designed to bring most schools at various levels — elementary, middle and high — into agreement on their start and ending times, eliminating unusual times and unusual lengths of the school day.

With the changes, most elementary and K-8 schools will start at 9:15 a.m. and end at 3:50 p.m. or 3:55 p.m.

High schools and middle schools generally will begin at 7:15 a.m. or 7:30 a.m. and end at 2:10 p.m. or 2:20 p.m.

There's one notable exception.

West Hernando Middle School will stay the same as last year, beginning at 9:15 a.m. and ending at 4:05 p.m. Due to scheduling difficulties, district transportation director Douglas Compton said, it would cost $370,000 to move the school to the earlier time.

Compton said transportation officials are working on changing the time and that West Hernando could move its bell times midyear.

The district will be able to shave 24 bus routes at an estimated savings of $37,000 a route, Compton said. The district will also be able to trim its fleet by 24, down to 113. Those 24 buses will likely be sold at auction for roughly $4,000 or $5,000 each, he said.

The buses will make a dry run Aug. 17, three days before school starts. Using the district's communication service, the district will make calls to students' families, informing them about the changes in schools' start and end times, Blavatt said.

He added that the district hopes to get a bigger bank of phones to handle extra calls from parents on the first day of school.

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

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