Suggestions ranging from a walking school bus to car-pooling were brought up Monday as members of the Regional District of North Okanagan’s Cherryville advisory planning committee met with concerned parents and Vernon School District officials to discuss busing.
“Monday evening’s public meeting was a tremendous demonstration of the effectiveness of Cherryville’s community spirit,” said Adrian Johnson, the district’s acting secretary-treasurer. “Many residents expressed concern at the funding challenges the school district faces.
“Suggested solutions raised included a ‘walking bus’, whereby adults accompany groups of students along roads to school or a school bus stop to assist safety.”
The district has recently adjusted bus routes and stops so that many students who previously have been picked up near their home now have to walk up to 2.4 km to a school or a school bus stop.
As well, some rural routes have been cut, meaning that some students need to find alternative transport to either the nearest school bus stop or school.
“Historically, the school district has provided a level of service that significantly exceeded this minimum,” said Johnson “Funding reductions have led to the district enforcing this regulation in Vernon and Coldstream in two phases over the past two years.”
The third phase of this change is being introduced in the Lumby and Cherryville areas, starting in September.
The main concern has been the elimination of the route along the portion of Sugar Lake Road north of the junction with Aumond Road.
“Historically, it has cost the school district about $18,000 a year to drive beyond this stop,” said Johnson. “There are seven students registered who live further than 2.4 km away from this stop. Those students will need to find their own transportation to get to this stop, and the district will provide families with eligible students financial assistance to help with this.”
He said eligible families will receive a cheque for transportation assistance at 20 cents per km per family plus 30 cents per child with a maximum of $10 per family per day.
Hank Cameron, with the regional district, said about two dozen people were in attendance at Monday’s meeting, once again expressing concern over the Sugar Lake Road route.
“The route that is of greatest concern, and the fact that it’s an industrial, high speed road is the Sugar Lake Road, that is our main focus,” said Cameron.
“There is a gravel truck every 10 minutes and logging trucks are sometimes up to 40 a day so it’s very dangerous for kids to be walking on.”
Johnson said the school district receives no funding for the provision of transportation and any funds spent on busing would otherwise be spent on education.
School District’s 23 and 83 have a 4.0 km walk limit for students in kindergarten to Grade 3 and 4.8 for older students. District 23 (Central Okanagan) charges $200 a year for all riders.
Johnson said Cherryville buses transport students not just to the elementary school there but also to Charles Bloom secondary school in Lumby.
“As has been the case for many years, these buses are cost-effectively located either in Cherryville or Lumby when not in use. Where the driver lives is not relevant to our costs,” he said.
Cameron said parents are willing to help but they don’t want to give up the Sugar Lake route, as up to 25 kids are currently using it.
“The lower part they want to amalgamate into two stops so we’re talking to the parents and coming up with a strategy and how we can help, but what we’d like to do is make sure the bus goes up Sugar Lake Road as it always has.
“They are saying it’s the parents’ responsibility to get their kids so really it’s an approach towards less service and it’s a gradual taking away.”
Cameron said the next step for RDNO is to send a letter to district superintendent Joe Rogers.
“We’re also reaching out to other school districts,” he said.
A document explaining phase three changes to busing has been sent to Lumby and Cherryville families who use school district transportation, along with notification of their school bus stop for next year.
“The provincial government has mandated that our school district find more than $800,000 of cost savings for the 2016/17 school year,” said Johnson.
“These cost savings are not to impact education. Over the next year, district staff, in consultation with parents, students and other stakeholders, will be further reviewing school busing across the district and other administrative costs to identify how this can be achieved.
“Unfortunately further changes to school transportation, including charging families, remain a possibility for the 2016/17 school year.”