Late school bus registrations create havoc at Central Okanagan school district - InfoNews

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Late school bus registrations create havoc at Central Okanagan school district

September 11, 2019 - 2:45 PM

KELOWNA - The 1,700 late applications for school busing in the Central Okanagan this year has left some eligible riders still waiting for a seat more than a week after the start of school.

School District 23 has room for about 5,000 students on its buses but had 6,700 applications. The deadline to apply for a seat was July 31 but some didn’t come in until September.

“We’re working through this as fast as we can,” school district secretary-treasurer Ryan Stierman told iNFOnews.ca. “Transportation staff have been putting in a lot of hours to get everyone on the bus but it’s going to take some time just because of the complexity of changing the routes in order to accommodate our eligible riders.”

Part of the reason for so many late registrations was because of poor communication from the school district, he said.

“We have apologized for the lack of communication and the anxiety this late notice has caused,” Stierman said. “We are working at this. A situation like this is not going to happen next year.”

Of the 1,700 late applications, 311 were for children living outside the provincially dictated walking distances to their schools (four kilometres for elementary school children and 4.8 km for others). They are classed as eligible riders.

The school district has the largest bus fleet in the province. It has a long-standing policy of allowing “courtesy” riders if there are seats available on buses once the eligible riders have been accommodated.

All students pay $225 per year to ride the bus, even though the actual cost of providing the service would be more like $800 each.

The province provides $600,000 a year for busing or about $100 per rider. That means the school board is paying about $475 per student – a total of $3 million a year – that comes out of operating funds that could be used for what Stierman called educational supports.

Last year there were 106 bus runs, with some buses travelling more than once each morning and afternoon. That was cut to 98 this year. The reduction was due, in part, to a new policy where students can no longer get buses to “schools of choice” – meaning schools outside their catchment areas.

The opening of Canyon Falls Middle School in the South Mission also meant more students could walk to school instead of taking the bus to KLO Middle School.

With the increase in demand from eligible riders, more runs will likely be added which will probably result in some earlier pick-ups in the morning and later drop-offs in the afternoon, Stierman said.

No new buses will be added to the fleet and courtesy riders who have already been approved for seats will keep their seats, he said.

A transportation task force was created last spring to review the busing policies.

It has been directed to make final recommendations to the school board by Jan. 31, 2020. Before that, parents will be asked for their input. The form of that consultation isn’t final but Stierman suggested surveying the community then following up with “coffee house” sessions in various neighbourhoods.

One of the issues to be discussed is whether students should use public transit rather than buses operated by the school district. Another issue will be what riders are charged.

While those issues will be discussed, Stierman stressed that no decisions have been made.


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