Safe, Fair Passage For All Hernando County Children

bus2Article by Jennifer Pontrelli

There are many responsibilities and worries that come with having children attending school. In Hernando County transportation (or lack of) is an added worry and it should not be. For those families living within the “2-mile non-transportation zone” being able to depend on school buses for safe passage is a thing of the past and having a child walking miles to school is scary for both the parent and child. My seven year old triplets attend JD Floyd Elementary and I have been advised that my development, Pristine Place, is within walking distance to the school because it is less than 2 miles to the community’s gate. My house is another mile or so inside the gate. Is it reasonable to expect seven year old children to walk that far to attend school? Is it reasonable to think that they could possibly do it safely? Can a parent be expected to feel comfortable exposing their children to the risk of sexual predators, fierce lightening and unpredictable weather, dangerous drivers or simply the potential for an accident? How long do you think it takes a small child to walk over two miles?

The 2-mile non-transportation zone was implemented in an effort to save $1 million dollars per year. The county has reduced the number of buses from 158 to 139, with an estimated savings of $54,000 per route and they have shifted their responsibility of providing transportation services onto the parents to achieve the reduction in buses. Now consider the following:

  • The median household income in Hernando County is just $42,700 and about 71 percent of middle and elementary students in Hernando qualify for and receive free or reduced lunch, with the vast majority qualifying for free lunch. Why is that relevant? It means that most families with school age children cannot afford before/after care.
  • Schools begin after 9:00 yet most jobs begin at 8:00. Parents who don’t have flexible work hours have no choice but to send what is most precious to them into a potentially dangerous situation.
  • The bus distribution is not equitable and if it were the county would surely save some money! Children are bused daily from one end of the county to the other to attend the few “choice” schools in the area. These schools accept children into their programs based on completion of portfolio projects resulting in acceptance (not based on zoning like the rest of the schools in the county) so they may live very far from the school. For example, Challenger K-8, a “choice” school, has 1,652 students and 19 buses while JD Floyd, a zoned school, has 1,155 students and only 4 buses. If parents choose to send their children to a choice school outside of their zoning, it is a choice. That choice should not affect the local neighborhood kids that are just trying to get safely to their zoned schools. Many students can be bused to their zoned school at a lower cost per route than busing a few children from all over the county to a school of their choice. Thirteen other states have started charging parents for the extra mileage to offset busing to choice schools. All children should be given safe passage to their zoned school and if they choose to attend a school outside of their zone then the burden of transporting falls on the parent.bus

For those who are lucky enough to be able to drive their children the drop-off/pick-up line is a nightmare with the wait being around 1 1/2 hours. Additionally, a new county ordinance prohibits parking or standing within 750 ft. of schools, forcing parents and grandparents that can’t physically walk the distance to and from school with young children to park on busy roadways (increasing chances of getting hit and lowering public safety) in order to abide by these new ordinances. Parents are ticketed if they park on a county easement or find a vacant lot closer to school in which to park and walk to get their children. The County is willing to spend money to send police officers out to ticket parents because the large fines offset the cost of policing. This only takes more money from parents who are barely earning enough to run their households. Wouldn’t it be better for everyone to utilize the police ticketing to direct the traffic to make travel to and from school safe for our children? Maybe open land at each school could be developed for walking paths, additional parking, or additional entrances in and out of the school. Perhaps allowing advertising on the buses would offset busing costs.

There is no price tag for our children’s safety. The county has to reconsider what they are doing to the people that live and work here. Before writing this article, I expressed my concern to the School Board with no return call. I’ve made countless calls to the Bus Department too. I am not alone in this and many have been ignored by both the Bus Department and the School Board. I voice my concerns to the school and have been featured in an article in the Hernando Today regarding these issues. I have organized and visited 20 plus residents in my development to hand out flyers requesting they push for the return of our bus. I have done all I can as one person. The parents of Hernando County must push back and be heard as one community who loves and wants all children to have a safe, fair passage to school!

I urge everyone to attend their next SAC Meeting (check your school calendar for dates & times ). I also recommend attending the next School Board Meeting on October 1st at 7:00 p.m. (919 N. Broad Street Brooksville, FL) to express your concern for your school and how the busing situation is affecting everyone. Homeowners tired of the long pick-up lines in their neighborhoods need to understand that the lines would not be saturated with cars if more children were on the bus. If you are a JD Floyd parent like me and would like to see your children’s transportation and pick-up needs addressed, the next SAC meeting for JD Floyd is being held on September 19th at 5:30 p.m. at LOCOMO Skating Rink (10451 County Line Rd. in Spring Hill) . The meeting is a great way to attend and support your SAC council and also to support/join the PTA as this meeting will follow the SAC meeting and your children will be able to skate the night away while we discuss our options on how to address these issues. If you are interested in researching the issue further there are several federal statutes that apply to transportation (FS Sec. 1006.21, 1006.23, 427.011) which can help to determine if the Superintendent and the School Board are following guidelines that are in our best interests.

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