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The School Board weighs ending bus rides for those who live within a mile of school.
By TOM MARSHALL, Times Staff Writer
Published January 27, 2008
[Joseph Garnett, Jr. | Times (2004)]
BROOKSVILLE -- The days of a free school bus ride for all Hernando County schoolchildren could be coming to an end.
On Monday, the School Board will consider a proposal to eliminate bus rides for some children who don't qualify for state transportation funding.
If the board accepts the plan at a 1 p.m. workshop session, 1,746 kids will have to find another way to school next fall.
Under the district proposal, children who live less than 1 mile from their neighborhood schools would no longer get school bus service.
Right now, the state contributes money only for students who live more than 2 miles from school. It also pays the $380 subsidy for all prekindergarteners, teen mothers and their children, children who attend multiple schools, and special-needs students who require transportation.
But the district still transports every student who shows up at a bus stop at an average cost of $669, even if they live across the street from their school.
"They just get on the bus and we register them," said transportation director Linda Smith.
Of 13,376 students being transported this year, 1,372 aren't eligible under the state formula. They cost the district an extra $917,868 this year, Smith said.
The planned opening of Explorer K-8 on Northcliffe Boulevard in August forced the issue. Located in a densely populated Spring Hill neighborhood, virtually the entire 2,100-student population lives within 1-1/2 miles of the school.
Transporting most of them would push the cost of busing ineligible students to more than $1.5-million next year, Smith said. By drawing the line at 1 mile for students in all county schools, the School Board would eliminate $746,604 of that extra cost.
Board members initially balked at the idea of forcing children to walk to Explorer across busy streets like Mariner Boulevard.
And at least one member still thinks busing is worth every penny.
"We haven't had any tragedies," said Dianne Bonfield. "If we're going to spend money, what better way to spend it than getting our kids to and from school?"
She said she planned to keep an open mind at Monday's workshop but was inclined to leave the current policy unchanged for safety's sake.
Other board members aren't so sure.
"The state says 2 miles, but 1 mile is probably a good compromise," said Sandra Nicholson. "I could see there being a few extenuating circumstances, but not many."
She said the board might invest in more crossing guards and even a few pedestrian walkways, an investment that would keep students safe and "pay for itself" compared with bus costs.
Superintendent Wayne Alexander said he didn't plan to push hard for the new policy, preferring to let board members decide.
But he said it might be controversial to craft one rule for Explorer children while allowing different rules for students at other county schools.
"Right now, I think the board is pretty consistent with the top priority of making sure kids get to school safely," Alexander said.
"But it's a very, very expensive item."
Tom Marshall can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 584-5537.
[Last modified January 26, 2008, 20:38:23]