When Pasco County Schools announced it would be dropping courtesy busing for middle and high school students next school year, local residents began seeking other answers from local elected leaders.
The decision affects about 3,000 students, who live closer than 2 miles from school. It doesn’t affect elementary school students.
The district’s rationale for ending the courtesy bus rides is that it will take some of the strain off the bus driver shortage, and should help with getting students to school on time and reducing wait times for students needing to be transported home after school.
Plus, the state doesn’t pay for those courtesy bus rides.
Since the district’s announcement, the issue has been sparking conversations among other elected government leaders.
During the Pasco County Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) meeting a couple of weeks after the announcement, Pasco County Commissioner Mike Moore told his MPO board colleagues: “I don’t know if you are, but I’ve gotten several emails from constituents with concerns.
“How is that going to work with our prioritization of sidewalks?” Moore asked other elected members on the board, which is responsible for transportation planning throughout Pasco County.
There are many areas within 2 miles of schools that lack sidewalks, Moore noted. “Students will have to walk in yards or in streets,” he said.
Moore than asked whether there were ways for the county board and the school board to work together to attract funding for additional sidewalks.
Tina Russo, a planner for the MPO, responded: “We feel the urgency. This has been a big discussion with all of our folks in the county, with figuring out the best way to move forward.
“There is a school safety group that meets monthly that discusses several different things, whether it be crossing guards, traffic officers, sidewalks, all of those things.
“Right now, we’re working on a county process of how we’re going to fund sidewalks and rank them, and then go after different pots of funding,” she said.
Russo added: “There’s nothing easy about it.”
Moore said if there any grants available, action is needed now.
Pasco County Commission Chairman Kathryn Starkey agreed solutions must be found.
However, she added: “There has to be a process, where they identify the most critical ones. That’s a lengthy process.”
Right of way must be secured, and in some cases the property owners are unwilling to sell, Moore said. That requires eminent domain — a process the county likes to avoid, he added.
“The most concerning thing is time,” said Camille Hernandez, who was attending her final MPO meeting before leaving her role as mayor of Dade City.
“It takes so long,” she said, to secure funding, acquire right of way and get sidewalks built.
“There really needs to be creative thinking here. We can’t wait,” Hernandez said.
“It’s really going to be an activist kind of movement, in the interim, whether it’s walking groups or biking groups — it’s going to have to be alternative methods,” she said.
Starkey said one potential solution is called a Walking School Bus. Essentially, it’s a group of students walking together to school, chaperoned by volunteer adults.
In addition to concerns raised by the MPO, the issue came up again at the Pasco County Planning Commission meeting, during discussion of a rezoning request.
Chris Williams, director of planning for the school district, was asking whether a proposed project had sidewalks.
That’s a critical issue, Williams said, because of the shortage of bus drivers and the lack of state funding for bus rides within 2 miles of school. The state does allow some bus rides within 2 miles, but the walking conditions must be deemed dangerous by very specific state standards.
Chief Assistant County Attorney David Goldstein told the planning board: “The MPO board expressed a great deal of concern about us having inadequate sidewalks to the schools.
“I think it is a high priority for our board (Pasco County Commission) to get that issue dealt with. There is a program called Safe Routes to Schools, but it is a fairly slow process to get sidewalks built.
Goldstein noted that at least one commissioner “said maybe the county should be looking at spending some Penny for Pasco money, as part of the renewal, to prioritize all of these sidewalks and get them built quickly.”
To make that happen, the county would need cooperation from the school district to identify areas where there’s an immediate needs for sidewalks, Goldstein said.
“I would think the voters would support getting these sidewalks built for safe transportation to schools. We just need to know where the proper locations are to do that,” Goldstein said.
Planning board chairman Charles Grey agreed the issue is important.
“It is a valid concern and I think it is something that we, as a county, need to address,” Grey said.
Discussions on the topic are likely to continue within the coming months, before the courtesy bus rides are slated to end in the fall.
Published May 04, 2022
Why don’t you ask the people who know about issues – Bus Drivers – safe and unsafe areas more than anyone else… Plus these by schools will make difference regarding bus driver shortage, wait times, etc. This change will make more traffic and dangerous situations for students….