August 12, 2016 - 1:00 PM
NEW FORMULA COMES UP $400,000 SHORT
CENTRAL OKANAGAN - She doesn’t want to sound ungrateful, but school board chair Moyra Baxter says because of an accident of history the money offered up by the province this week for improving student transit isn’t much help to her school district.
Central Okanagan school district is eligible for $600,000 under the $15-million program but Baxter says that amount would have to replace $1 million raised by student busing fees to operate the $3.8 million cost of the service. The school district this year will charge about 4,000 students $250 to use they yellow bus system.
It's a budget anomaly she says dates back some 16 years when the district went through a transportation audit by the Ministry of Education.
“It’s very complicated,” Baxter says, who was on the board back about 2000 when the school board blew the whistle on itself after discovering internally they had been paying for some kids to ride the school bus who weren’t eligible.
Baxter says Ministry officials reacted by first cutting the school district’s busing budget — coincidently by about $400,000 — and was considering a similar audit of all the other 60 school districts, when instead it simply chose to freeze their busing budgets.
“We were the only district that had funds taken away before the freeze,” Baxter says. “Other districts are looking at this and thinking, this is a great deal, but we’re looking at it, thinking it will cost us money and where are we going to cut."
The walk limit formula used back then to calculate ridership eligibility has long since been replaced, Baxter says, and only eight districts still charge for providing transportation services, but that original $400,000 cut was never restored or replaced, despite letters of protest sent by Baxter and the board of the day to the education ministry.
Baxter has made her concerns known during a conference call with senior education ministry officials and is combing through old school board files looking for copies of those letters of complaint.
"Even if they could restore some of it, that could allow us to offer the service at a reduced rate."
The school board has until the end of September to apply for the funding but a condition is they must stop charging the $250 per semester it currently asks of students who use bus system. There is no obligation to apply, Baxter adds.
— This story was updated 12:06 p.m., Tuesday, August 16, 2016 with additional transportation budget information and clarification.
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