The Hesperia Unified School District school board rolled back controversial changes to the secondary student busing policy at their Monday night meeting.

"Truly, this is near and dear to the hearts of parents," Superintendent Mark McKinney said. "I understand that."

Earlier this summer, board members voted to change the minimum distance secondary students live from their school in order to be able to ride the HUSD's buses. The minimum distance was extended by half a mile, to 2.5 miles for middle school students and 3.5 miles for high school students. The move was intended to save an estimated $550,000 in the face of a $5.5 million budget shortfall.

The state of California is facing an estimated $17 billion gap -- the budget has still not been finalized -- and legislators are considering cutting back on the amount of money the state provides to public school districts based on average daily attendance (ADA) in district schools.

The state's ADA payments make up 73 percent of the HUSD's general operation fund -- as opposed to funds that can only be spent on expenses like facilities. The 7 percent cut discussed in Sacramento would mean a $5.5 million reduction in district revenue in Fiscal Year 2008-2009. Salaries and benefits make up 76 percent of the HUSD's budget.

District officials estimate that 1,707 students at the district's middle and high schools were affected by the change. And their families made their opinions known, with phone calls, letters and e-mails to the district.

"I've gotten a mountain of phone calls," board member Lee Rogers said.

Monday night, affected families packed the meeting room to overflowing.

"My son is going to have to get up around 4:30 in the morning because we live on the mesa," mother Joanna Gamble said. "We all know the great city of Hesperia doesn't have many street lights or gutters."

"I have been having to take two hours out of my job to take my child to work each day," said mother Carolina Guerra. "My kid cannot be out there in the streets. It's too dangerous."

"Our streets are not safe for our students," Mojave High School employee Cheryl Bradley said. "Are we going to take our responsibility to our students seriously?"

In the end, the school board voted to roll back the changes 5-0.

But things won't be exactly like they were in previous school years. Historically, the 2 and 3 mile distances were often ignored, and bus passes, new this year for most secondary schools in the HUSD, will remain in effect. Officials hope that by only allowing those qualified to ride the bus, the district will be able to cut back on the number of buses required to bring students to and from their schools. Under the revised "old" system -- including taking away 10 buses for Sultana students who have always been within the official walking distance to the school -- the district expects to save approximately $250,000.

The next meeting of the Hesperia Unified School District school board will take place September 8 at 6 p.m. in the Hesperia Administration and Educational Support Center, 15576 Main Street.

Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 956-7108 or at beau@hesperiastar.com.