BEYOND THE HEADLINES: D is downloading

Richard Rolke provides some thoughts on school board cuts and the impact on municipalities

Now that classes are  back, there’s a new subject for kids — downloading.

The Vernon School District has inadvertently placed significant financial pressure on the municipalities of Vernon and Coldstream since some bus routes were scrapped and students who live within 2.4 kilometres of a school must walk.

Perhaps the best example of this is residents along Aberdeen Road demanding sidewalks, signage and crosswalks because of the current conditions for children walking or riding their bikes to Coldstream Elementary.

“Every time I walk on the shoulder, it is guaranteed that a car will speed by,” parent Cheryl Dowler told Coldstream council recently.

“The vehicles are too close, too fast.”

Other risks also exist in the neighbourhood (disclosure: I live in the area).

“They’ll be out there when the roads are slippery, when the light is dim, when the snowbanks are thick…,” said Dowler of students.

Similar issues about sidewalks and snow removal will also arise in Vernon neighbourhoods and school district superintendent Joe Rogers is already directing parents to contact the city about service levels.

This comes at a time, though, that the City of Vernon is struggling to control its infrastructure deficit. Among the strategies being considered is restricting additions to the sidewalk network as annual maintenance comes at a price.

Now there is no question that the Vernon School District, like all districts in the province, has fallen upon hard times. Provincial funding has not kept up with inflation, especially in areas mandated by Victoria, such as labour contracts and B.C. Hydro and ICBC rates.

Cost-cutting has become a fine art within the education system and the $125,000 in annual savings from chopping bus routes is equivalent to two teachers or four certified education assistants. Obviously any spare cash needs to be pumped directly into local classrooms.

However, as the school district’s bottom line improves, things grow even more tight for the municipalities. If they concede to every request for sidewalks, street lights, snow plowing or even enhanced transit, their budgets will balloon.

Instead of telling parents to contact municipalities about safety issues, the school district should be asking the public to personally call or e-mail MLA Eric Foster, Education Minister Peter Fassbender and Premier Christy Clark about ensuring district budgets keep up with the cost of living.

School trustees also need to meet with their counterparts on Vernon, Coldstream and Lumby councils to discuss the issue and whether a common front is required to lobby the provincial government over educational funding. Victoria needs to know that its policies are having an impact far outside of schools.

Bill Turanski, school district chairperson, recently stated that “The ministry (of education) 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.”

But the safety of children, no matter how they get to school, should be everyone’s priority and the government needs to be reminded of its responsibility.