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Vernon school bus cuts will have 'huge impact' on parents: PAC president

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March 11, 2020 - 5:15 PM

A plan for the Vernon School District to scrap school buses for over 600 pupils will have a knock-on effect for other schools and "definitely" cause some students to change school, says the president of a parent group.

Vernon School District Parent Advisory Council president Gladys Fraser said the plan to cut school bus services for 637 pupils, categorized as "courtesy students" would have a huge impact on their families and a snowball effect on other schools

"I think they need to really understand the impact of cutting those routes has on those families," Fraser said.

According to a School District 22 report from December 2019, school bus services for courtesy riders are slated to be cut. The school district classifies courtesy riders as anyone who travels to a school out of their catchment area. This predominantly affects French Immersion students, as well as students going to other specialist schools, and students living within 2.4 kilometres of their school.

Of the 637 pupils likely to be affected, 219 attend Beairsto Elementary and 127 W.L. Seaton Secondary, both French Immersion schools.

Fraser said if parents are unable to transport their children to French Immersion or other specialist schools, they will likely relocate their children to their catchment school. This, in turn, will put pressure on those schools.

She also said the school district has not been transparent about the process and there was no consultation.

Vernon school district spokesperson Maritza Reilly said the funding to cut the routes was originally passed in the budget two years ago. Since then the school board has funded the courtesy buses with one-off yearly expenditures.

Fraser is critical of this approach as the cuts never appeared on a meeting agenda as a separate item for trustees to vote on and instead were buried in a yearly budget. The school district's 2020 to 2021 budget is scheduled to be voted on at its April meeting.

School board chair Robert Lee defended the decision to cut the buses for courtesy riders. Lee said transportation currently costs the school district roughly $1.5 million a year.

"There will be some buses and the routes will be changed exactly how many and what we don't know at this point in time," Lee said.

When asked how families were supposed to get their children to school, Lee replied saying, they should call their MLA and the Ministry of Education as they were ultimately responsible for the money.

"The school district does not have to provide transportation," Lee said. The school trustee added that parents could look at carpooling or taking a municipal bus.

Former Beairsto Elementary Parent Advisory Council vice president Christie Tujik questioned how — if over 200 Beairsto children stopped attending and relocated to their catchment area schools — the school district would cope.

"My catchment school is Hillview and they're full, they're at capacity," she said. "They're not thinking about the snowball effect."

Tajik said she took a job which enabled her to finish work before the end of school but stressed that not all parents had that opportunity.

"So then what?" she said.

Tajik was also critical of the school district saying it needed to be more transparent.

Fraser points out that while the school district report shows the cut will save $195,000 it doesn't take into effect the $127,400 the school district makes in revenue if each student is paying to $200 per year to ride the bus.

School district CUPE members, which includes school bus drivers and support staff, also seem in favour of scrapping the cuts. In the school boards, preliminary budget report 2020/21 CUPE requests a budget amendment asking for $270,000 for "courtesy rider transportation support."

"We have a lot of parents that are very concerned that their children will not have access to French immersion as a result of these changes," Fraser said. "And that they will be inequities in the way in which French immersion will be available in the future... the ultimate concern is that it becomes a far more elitist."

To contact a reporter for this story, email Ben Bulmer or call (250) 309-5230 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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