Brevard School Board explores charging for bus rides

State says move would violate law

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MELBOURNE, Fla. - Brevard School Board members want to institute a pay-to-ride fee on bus service to and from choice schools and programs.

And they asked members of Brevard's delegation in Tallahassee on Thursday to help smooth the way, Local 6 News partner Florida Today reported.

At a lobbying dinner hosted by school officials at their offices, school leaders explained their concern that instituting such a program under existing laws could lead to an expensive legal battle.

"I find it ludicrous that you can't do that," State Rep. Tom Goodson (R-Rockledge) said after dining on herb-crusted tenderloin, which was served by students in Melbourne High's culinary arts program.

The Florida Department of Education told Brevard leaders that doing so would violate state laws requiring free access to public education, district leaders said.

"We really don't want to take this to the level where we have to go to court," Board member Amy Kneessy said.

About 6,000 Brevard students use corridor busing, but the $1.2 million program would likely be cut. Brevard School Board members are considering $30.7 million cuts, including closing four schools and eliminating more than 400 jobs.

A pay-to-ride program would replace the current corridor bus program and would help families with children interested in choice programs or schools who have no other transportation option.

"It's no different than pay to play for sports," Kneessy said.

School leaders also pointed out that Brevard charges $2 a day to families who live less than 2 miles away from schools but want their children to ride a bus.

Duval County has a similar pay-to-ride program for children attending magnet schools. Parents there pay a contractor — not the school district.

School district leaders said fees would need to cover costs.

A sliding fee for low-income students, a minimum number of students per bus, and a commitment from families are being discussed.

Also on Thursday, school board member asked state leaders to look for ways to increase state funding, change class-size laws requirements and delay tying a new teacher evaluation formula to pay.

School district leaders held similar dinners a few years ago, but they fell by the wayside as the climate between district officials and state lawmakers soured.

Board Chair Barbara Murray said she was "encouraged" by the conversation.

"At the end of the day, we know we all have to work together for the good of our kids," State Rep. Steve Crisafulli (R-Merritt Island).

Also in attendance were state senators Thad Altman (R-Viera) and Andy Gardiner (R-Orlando). A staff member of Rep. Ritch Workman (R-Melbourne) attended in his place.

State Rep. John Tobia (R-Melbourne Beach) had a previous engagement, as did his staff.

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