VERNON - A school board decision to cut Vernon bus routes is getting a rough ride from parents.
School District 22 is tightening up the routes to save approximately $125,000 from its budget. Around 300 students living 2.4 km or more from their school will now have to find another way to get to class.
The school district has always had a bylaw dictating students within 2.4 km of their school must walk.
“Even though we’re the shortest walk limit in the entire Okanagan, we hadn’t been enforcing it,” superintendent Joe Rogers says. “Because we are short of money we’re enforcing our own policy.”
The Central Okanagan School District has a walk limit of 4 km for kindergarten to grade 3 students, and a 4.8 limit for grades 4-12. Penticton and Summerland follow the same limits.
“It’s difficult because we don’t receive new funding for transportation. Last year we spent more on bussing than we received, ” Rogers says. “In the end it is the parent’s responsibility to get their kid to school and back. We can't cut teachers to create more bus routes. Our first priority is teaching staff.”
The biggest concern for parents is their children's safety while walking to school. To help with that, Rogers says the school district is working with the City of Vernon to make high traffic areas safer for students by creating sidewalks or establishing walking school buses led by parent volunteers.
The new routes technically go into effect June 19 but due to the teach strike, likely won’t be tested out until next school year.
Karla Lopez-Ziegler, PAC president at Silver Star Elementary and member of the district PAC has heard many complaints from parents.
“There’s a lot of safety concerns for those parents that live on busy streets,” Lopez-Ziegler says. “And a lot of parents work so they can’t take their kid to school.”
While she feels for those parents, she says few got involved in the decision making process.
“There was a budget meeting where they talked about options for what to cut and aside from school trustees and the PAC, only 2-3 parents showed up,” Lopez-Ziegler says. “There’s a lot of avenues to voice your opinion which a lot of parents don’t choose to use, which is sad.”
She’s expecting a large turnout at the District Parent Advisory Committee meeting Thursday for a discussion on bussing. Superintendent Joe Rogers will be there, as will school board chair Bill Turanski.
“I think a lot of parents will want to voice their opinion there but it’s not the forum for it,” Lopez-Ziegler says. “There will be limited time for questions and people may get turned away due to space issues.”
She’s encouraging parents to contact the school district directly with their concerns.
“If there’s enough need maybe the district will consider setting up another bus route, or having people pay a fee like in other districts,” she says.
The committee meets Thursday at 7 p.m. at Royal LePage Realty at 4007 32 Street.
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