Grade 7 student Saajan Klair steps out of the bus at Hillview Elementary.

Grade 7 student Saajan Klair steps out of the bus at Hillview Elementary.

Busing changes drive debate

While the first week of classes has gone smoothly for students, Vernon School District’s busing changes have caused some concern for parents

While the first week of classes has gone smoothly for students, the Vernon School District’s busing changes have caused some concern for parents.

In an effort to save money, the district has made cuts to several bus routes, and students who live within 2.4 km of the school in their catchment area will be required to walk or make other arrangements.

For students attending schools out of their catchment area, such as the French immersion programs at Beairsto and Alexis Park or the Montessori program at Silver Star, the district provides seats on the bus as a courtesy and if there is space.

“There have been some adjustments around the busing changes, and our busing superintendent is working very hard to address the concerns that have come in,” said district superintendent Joe Rogers, adding that some issues such as plowing of sidewalks and other safety concerns need to be brought to the attention of the City of Vernon.  “Many bus stops have been moved and of the 3,800 riders we had last year, there are only 3,520 this year because the rest are in the 2.4 walk limit.

“It’s our responsibility to use the money we have from the ministry to provide the best education we can, but we’re very sympathetic that this has caused a hardship to many families.”

Rogers said the district is still earmarking $2 million annually for busing, but route changes add up to savings of $125,000 per year.

“That adds up to two teacher positions or four CEA positions and our responsibility is to put in as many resources as possible for the kids.

“At the moment, we are still providing busing for anyone who lives outside the 2.4 kilometres limit, which is one of the shortest limits in the province — everyone else uses four kilometres as their limit.”

School board chairman Bill Turanski said he has received a number of e-mails and calls from parents, which he passes along to transportation supervisor Robyn Stephenson.

“Anytime you make reductions in anything, including transportation services, you’re going to get negative feedback,” said Turanski. “The ministry says we have no obligation to provide any kind of busing and if we do, then we have to find ways of generating money for the additional costs.”

Turanski said most school districts charge for busing, including Kelowna, which charges $112 per student per year.

“We have examined that option and we’ve been reluctant to pursue it but we may have to,” he said.

“We feel it could be a real hardship on young families, but we may be forced into it because we simply can’t offer the service beyond what we have, so it would have to come from the parents.”