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Schools

Board won't give buses to shelter

Holy Ground Homeless Shelter asked the board to donate old buses that were headed for auction. The shelter planned to use them to help victims of Hurricane Katrina.

By ABHI RAGHUNATHAN
Published September 8, 2005


BROOKSVILLE - The Holy Ground Homeless Shelter wanted five old school buses to aid the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Hernando County school officials were going to auction them off this weekend.

The request seemed like one that would get rubber-stamped without much debate. Instead, it was voted down Tuesday night by an evenly divided Hernando County School Board.

After board members voted 2-2 against donating the buses to the relief effort, pastor Jeff Griffin of the First Church of the Last Roundup in Land O'Lakes, who is helping the shelter, questioned board members' generosity and their commitment to the public. The shelter has been overflowing with evacuees from the Gulf.

Board member Pat Fagan, who had supported Holy Ground and wound up on the losing end of the vote, took a wad of money out of his pocket and slammed it down on the table in exasperation.

"I'd like to give you $100 (in gasoline money) for whoever gives you the buses," Fagan said.

School Board Vice Chairman Jim Malcolm and board member Sandra Nicholson both voted against donating the buses. School Board Chairman Robert Wiggins joined Fagan in supporting Holy Ground's request. Board member John Druzbick did not attend the meeting.

"I think it's very important that we support this request," Fagan said. "Not too many disasters happen in this country."

Both Malcolm and Nicholson wondered if it would be fair to give away buses to the shelter when they had turned away similar requests from other groups. Nicholson also said it would be risky to give away old buses that might be unreliable, perhaps leaving the district liable for any accidents or other problems.

"I understand these buses are not in great shape ... What if they break down (on the road)?" asked Nicholson.

School Board attorney Paul Carland said he could draft papers that protected the district from any responsibility for the donated buses. But that assurance didn't persuade board members to break with precedent.

"I am not so sure this is an appropriate move for us given what we've done in the past," Malcolm said.

Griffin said the shelter had resorted to using a donated furniture truck to bring back people left homeless by Hurricane Katrina. He said the shelter had approached Hernando after hearing that it was going to auction the buses and could also store supplies in the vehicles.

"This is an ongoing usage," Griffin said.

When the board turned down the request, Griffin didn't hide his disappointment. He questioned Nicholson, asking her what the School Board had done for the poor. Nicholson replied that she had done plenty to aid the needy.

Abhi Raghunathan can be reached at araghunathan@sptimes.com or 352 848-1431.

[Last modified September 8, 2005, 01:49:23]


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