The Central Okanagan School District is clarifying what it spends on transportation and changes to busing fees after new funding from the provincial government was announced in early August and then again this week by the province.
The school district says it spends almost $4 million per year transporting students to and from school and has been charging busing fees since 2009 when it was forced to in order to balance its budget.
This week the government put out a release trumpeting changes to transportation funding in the district after it allocated $600,000 to the district to go towards transportation costs.
The problem is, that’s nowhere near enough to cover the costs the district was receiving from the busing fee, paid by every rider (with exceptions) since 2009.
A press release from the school district says that funding for transportation was frozen by the Ministry of Education in 2002 putting the onus on school districts to set service levels locally. That forced Central Okanagan to introduce its first ever transportation fee in 2009.
Now, with only enough funding to cover a portion of the students that were using the bus system (those within the Ministry of Education walk limits of 4 km for primary and 4.8 km for Grades 4 to 12), the school board has put forward a plan to use the money. The new system will charge children who are inside the walk limits but who want to bus.
When the province first announced the funds, it stated the $600,000 transportation grant could only be used for the purpose of alleviating the transportation fee for students who in the past would have been considered eligible riders.
The Board of Education submitted a plan to the Ministry of Education that will introduce a subsidy of 100 per cent of the fee schedule for those ‘eligible’ students. The Ministry has now approved that plan and confirmed that the grant is forthcoming.
The School District says it will now begin the process of applying the subsidy and refunding parents the fees (for eligible riders) already paid for the 2016-2017 school year and is targeting early November to complete the process of issuing the refunds.
The district also says that Ministry of Education has indicated the grant will be ongoing funding and so in preparation for next year’s transportation registration, the it is planning to adjust the registration system so that the subsidy can be applied when that student’s eligibility and placement on a bus is confirmed.