Florida Gov. Rick Scott vetoed a budget measure that would have provided $1 million to Okaloosa County School District for purchasing 10 new school buses to alleviate traffic congestion near a local U.S. Air Force base.
Ted Corcoran, president and CEO of the Greater Fort Walton Beach Chamber of Commerce, said the school buses servicing Florosa Elementary students were specifically meant to reduce traffic on a stretch of U.S. Highway 98, the main thoroughfare to the school that also passes by Hurlburt Field.
The area's traffic congestion was a “military readiness issue” that the 10 additional buses would have resolved, added Tracy Dewar, deputy wing commander at Hurlburt AFB.
Line item 115 A, which began as House Bill 3031 introduced last November by Rep. Mel Ponder, allotted the funds to purchase the dedicated school buses. Gov. Scott said on March 16 that he vetoed the bill because funding for new school buses was already available through the Florida Education Finance Program. “School districts have the local flexibility to support such initiatives based upon their priorities,” he said.
Okaloosa County School District is also considering changes to the bell schedule, but its buses have to run three tiers of routes: Elementary school, middle school and high school. Community members decdied that Florosa Elementary was so out of the way that it made more sense to purchase the school its own buses so it could set its own schedule and avoid conflict with traffic around the air base, Corcoran explained.
The Chamber of Commerce publicized the plan said Corcoran. “We were hoping to help the military—who were in full favor of this—help the business people who get caught in the traffic, and help the school and their families to get the word out,” he added.
During a March 14 district school board meeting, Dewar praised the collaborative effort between federal, state and local representatives to approve the plan and budget for the purchasing the buses. She said that the air base had already begun communicating with military spouses and retirees regarding the need for school bus driver applicants if the measure passed.
Now, said Corcoran, it’s “back to the drawing board” for the district. A spokesperson at the district’s transportation department told STN that operations are carrying on as before, adding that there are currently no plans pursue the purchase of the 10 buses.