Vernon parent launches petition to protest $300 school bus fee | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Vernon parent launches petition to protest $300 school bus fee

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August 24, 2018 - 10:45 AM

VERNON - A mother of two dismayed at the $600 she has to shell out so her kids can ride the school bus has launched an online petition arguing the school board should scrap the fees.

Jordan Lawrence launched the Stop the Vernon School District 22 Courtesy Bus Fee petition on the website Aug. 22 after receiving an invoice from the Vernon school district to pay for her six and nine-year-olds to catch the school bus.

Lawrence said she was aware the bill was coming after the school board wrote to affected parents in May advising of the new charge. But faced with the reality of paying the $300 bill by Aug. 31 — the other half is due in January — she felt compelled to do something.

In April this year the school board voted to introduce the $300 yearly fee for courtesy riders who catch the school bus starting in September 2018. The school board defines courtesy riders as those who live within 2.4 km of their school or live outside of the catchment area of the school. Currently, they're allowed to ride the bus at no charge provided there is space.

But it's not only those students that are classed as courtesy riders. Pupils attending Montessori, French Immersion or other special schools also fall into this category. As these schools have no catchment areas, all pupils that attend, regardless of where they live, are considered out of catchment and therefore courtesy riders.

Lawrence moved to Vernon from Kamloops in December 2017 and enrolled her six and nine-year-old in French Immersion school Beairsto Elementary. As the children had been in French Immersion previously Lawrence wanted them to continue with French. Now she has the choice to pay the fees, let them walk, or drive them herself. She takes issue with all three options.

"If your child is six or seven or younger you really don't want them walking two-and-a-half kilometres to school," says Lawrence. She says putting more drivers on the road and creating more exhaust fumes is also the opposite of what society should be doing. Leaving her with the option of paying the fees.

According to the school board, the fees were introduced to cover a budget deficit largely caused the new Health Payroll Tax.

"Implementation of the courtesy rider bus fee was a decision approved by the school trustees to ensure a balanced budget," the school district said in an email.

But Lawrence argues that if this fee came about to balance a budget why hasn't the cost been spread across the board to all parents? 

The school board also points out provincial law no longer requires them to provide student transportation, although they chose to do so.

But Lawrence says using that logic means everybody is a courtesy rider.

"By their reasoning, everybody should be paying, I don't think they should be targeting certain families."

Vernon mom Lianne Tuton shares Lawrence's sentiments and signed the petition. Tuton said she has joint custody of her 12-year-old son who spends alternate weeks with each parent. Tuton said her son has attended Harwood Elementary School since kindergarten as his father lives in that catchment area. She, however, lives across town in another catchment area.

"Because he catches the bus from my house, even though he's only on it 50 per cent of the time I pay the same costs as everyone else," she said.

Tuton reiterates she doesn't mind paying a fee but thinks the system shouldn't be so "black and white" and that fees should be "reasonable." She also believes charging per family and not per child would be a better system. Tuton said her son wants to ride his bike, but she won't let him because it's too dangerous.

Lawrence admits she probably should have launched the petition back in April when the news came out and also thinks maybe it should have been aimed at the provincial government.

"We fundraise for playgrounds, we have to buy school supplies... where are the tax dollars going," she said.

Lawrence says she will no doubt end up paying the fees.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Ben Bulmer or call (250) 718-0428 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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