I am writing in response to the letter by Robert E. Lee published in the Sept. 26 Morning Star. I would like to provide some clarification to the busing issue and respond to some of the statements made by Mr. Lee.
Firstly, let me share the education ministry’s position on student travel to schools. It is very simple: Parents, not school districts, are responsible for getting children to school. In addition, school districts are not required to provide transportation for students and, if they choose to do so, they must find the means to generate the additional funding required to provide that service. As a result, many of the school districts now charge for busing For example, the Central Okanagan School District charges $112 per student per year. Our school board has been reluctant to move in that direction, feeling that this could create a financial burden on young families, but the board may have to give this some consideration in the near future.
Mr. Lee states there is a lack of communication between the board and parents. Each school has a parent advisory council. We are one of the few, possibly the only, school board that has a trustee assigned to every school PAC in the district. Our trustees attend these meetings to update parents on current educational issues and to respond to any parental concerns. As a board, we do not rely on parents to come to us. We are prepared to go to the parents and we do so.
In addition, there are a number of other opportunities for sharing information and receiving input from parents on a regular basis, including the school district website, which is utilized to obtain parental input. At times, a simple e-mail is all that is necessary. The board chairperson and the superintendent attend the monthly meetings of the District Parent Advisory Council to update parents on current issues and to respond to questions or concerns. Prior to determining the budget “cuts” for the current school year, parents were invited to a meeting for input regarding what items might be considered for the necessary budget reductions. Busing was one of the topics discussed and input was received from several parents (most suggested a charge for busing) but, despite the fact that this meeting was well advertised, the session was simply not well attended and may not have reflected the view of the majority of parents.
I believe we can demonstrate that the board is constantly communicating with parents and, finally, parents are always welcome at our monthly public meetings and the door is never “locked.”
School boards have been in a cost reduction mode for at least the last eight years. During the last two years, we have been faced with almost $4 million in cost reductions largely resulting from rising utility/maintenance costs and from the downloading of costs that would have normally been the responsibility of the ministry. To meet these demands for the current school year, the district needed to find $1.5 million. To retain as many of the student services as possible, the major reductions were primarily confined to the other district departments, including the transportation department. In terms of the transportation budget, the decision was made to enforce the 2.4-kilometre walk limit. This walk limit has been in the district for many years and, when the resources were available, it was seldom enforced. The 2.4-kilometre walk limit is among the shortest in the province. In some districts, it is up to nine kilometres.
It is unfortunate that Mr. Lee has not been in a position to take advantage of the opportunities that the district and trustees have made available for parent involvement. I can certainly understand Mr. Lee’s concerns. He has obviously given this situation a great deal of thought and has offered a very interesting option. I truly appreciate that Mr. Lee took the time to share his concerns in such a meaningful manner.
Vernon School District