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New school zone too tiny to qualify for bus money
In theory, all of the K-8's students could walk to school. But reality includes two busy roads.
By TOM MARSHALL, Times Staff Writer
Published September 19, 2007
BROOKSVILLE - They had no problem with the maps.
But members of the Hernando County School Board discovered there's a costly sting in the new school boundaries proposed for August 2008 by a district rezoning committee.
Because the board chose to place its newest K-8 school in a densely populated Spring Hill neighborhood to ease overcrowding at neighboring schools, its proposed zone when it opens next year will be too small to qualify for a dime of state transportation funds.
Under Florida guidelines, students who live within 2 miles of a school don't qualify for school bus money. And the proposed rezoning map for the new school off Northcliffe Boulevard shows a zone just 1.5 miles across.
That means the board will lose $250,000 to $500,000 in state funds for the 2,100 children who are rezoned from other schools. Paying to transport them could cost the district about $1.5-million more, said transportation director Linda Smith.
But with the school situated near two busy thoroughfares, Northcliffe and Mariner boulevards, board members said those costs might be unavoidable.
"There's a lot of vehicles, and I have a major concern," said board Chairman Pat Fagan.
Board member Sandra Nicholson initially suggested that students could walk to school with additional safety patrols at crosswalks. But she reversed herself after hearing members' concerns, and said she favored at least limited busing for students who need to cross busy roads.
Parent Catherine Vredeveld told the board to expect many complaints at its evening session over the rezoning plan. She represents families from the Sterling Hills development, some of whom would be rezoned from J.D. Floyd Elementary to Spring Hill Elementary.
But board members raised no concerns about the proposed boundary changes, which would take effect next summer for the elementary and middle schools. High school boundaries would change in the summer of 2010 with the opening of a new high school off U.S. 19 north of Hexam Road.
Students in fifth, eighth and 12th grades affected by rezoning will be allowed to stay in their old schools for a final year, but they must arrange their own transportation, the board decided.
The plan faces a final vote in December, with public hearings scheduled for October and November.
James Knight, director of school services, said the new high school will provide older students with their first significant relief from overcrowding, and will also provide some opportunities for families to choose schools based on interest.
But even with a new high school and the new K-8 in Spring Hill, Knight reminded board members that the latest rezoning effort won't provide significant relief for some elementary schools, like Suncoast and Deltona.
The board considered, but quickly rejected, an $11-million proposal to enlarge the planned K-8 to include a full third floor. That would push its enrollment from 2,100 to 2,600 students - a "monumental" size for a school, said member Dianne Bonfield.
And with only a single entrance for cars and buses, officials said, the extra enrollment might overwhelm local traffic conditions and prompt objections from the County Commission.
Members agreed the $11-million would be better spent to fast-track planning for a K-8 adjacent to the new high school.
"That seems to be where all the growth is right now, up in the northwest corner of the county," Knight said.
The board will also continue negotiations with the developers at Southern Hills for a possible K-8 school to open in 2012 or 2013.