Christie Tujik (right) displays her upset with the potential of removing courtesy riders, the majority of which are French Immersion students, from the busing system during the Vernon School Board meeting Wednesday, March 11. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)

School bus cuts feared for some North Okanagan students

Special transportation meeting could impact hundreds of kids

Busing talks are back on track in the Vernon School District despite school being out of session.

A special online public meeting Wednesday will see board trustees address transportation for the 2020-21 school year.

The April 22 meeting gets underway at 5:30 p.m. with a link to the online meeting to be posted on the district website Wednesday. There will be opportunities for the public to ask questions.

One parent says the meeting is to discuss the proposed cancellation of 60 school bus routes affecting 637 students in the district.

“If these 60 bus routes are cancelled the whole community will be impacted by extra peak hour traffic congestion, especially in the downtown vicinity, not to mention the increase in air pollution as these 637 students will now have to find alternate ways to access school,” said Karen Smith, a concerned parent of two elementary students. “Also the safety of the students is endangered by increasing the already congested traffic around schools at drop-off and pick-up times.”

As the district is currently in budget deliberations, transportation is a topic of interest for many parents who have seen bus fees implemented, routes cancelled and other changes.

“This is now the fourth year we have struggled with busing,” said the district’s chairperson Robert Lee, at the last packed-house trustee meeting in March.

READ MORE: Courtesy riders could get boot from Vernon buses

Lee says the district receives $400,000 but spends $2 million on transportation, which comes out of general funds.

“That is money I could have taken, as an example, I could have put another 20 teachers into the classrooms, I could have put another 30 assistants into the schools,” said Lee.

Now the district is facing a budget shortfall of $951,238 for the upcoming school year.

A major part of that is a significant reduction in enrolment in the International program, from 220 students to 10, which equates to a $560,000 loss.

Currently the preliminary budget calls for a user free for transportation for next year and approval of adjustments, if any, to transportation policy or changes.

There is currently a registration fee of $25 for all riders, plus $175 for courtesy riders.

With those fees, CUPE President Gray Boisvert says the cost to the district is more like $60-80,000 for the courtesy riders, which represent 637 riders.

“What is it going to cost them when they have to settle 637 kids somewhere else?” Boisvert questioned at the March meeting. “There’s going to be financial impacts to the district to make this change.”

Other parents fear the changes could affect education for their kids.

“By taking the busing away, he will not go to school, it’s hard enough to keep my kids in school as teenagers without taking transportation away from them,” said one mom at the meeting.

After having busing for 35 years on Westside Road, one dad questioned the sudden change amid a stressful time.

“Monday the stock market crashed, Tuesday I lost my job and today I have to drive here to find out we might lose busing as well,” he said during the March 11 meeting.

The change will have the biggest affect on Beairsto students, which represent the largest number of courtesy riders.

“It will mean only people with means can take part in French immersion,” said mother Dayna Li, who adds that the school parking lots are not designed to handle every parents dropping off and picking up kids.

Lee and fellow trustees heard the concerns of parents at the March meeting, and did ask for some suggestions.

“Why don’t you sit amongst yourself and come up with a committee and say yes there’s a problem here and come up with some solutions. Because we have been struggling with solutions with diminishing dollars,” said Lee, adding that busing is approximately 30-40 per cent of the children in the district.

The district is seeking feedback on the Budget Adjustment Plan, which can be sent to ljameson@sd22.bc.ca.

READ MORE: School expansion makes room for more Vernon students


@VernonNews
jennifer@vernonmorningstar.com

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