After years of charging all users of school buses fees to transport their children to and from school, the Central Okanagan School Board has a quandary on its hands, thanks to a trickle of cash handed to it by the provincial government.
In early August, the Ministry of Education allocated $600,000 to the Central Okanagan district to be used for transportation. Of the 60 school districts in the province, Central Okanagan was one of only eight that had been charging fees to ride buses and it was estimated the district would bring in $1 million under the plan, helping it to balance its budget.
The ministry mandated the $600,000 was to be used only to eliminate bus fees for parents, leaving Central Okanagan trustees grappling with how to institute a fair and equitable solution.
“We have been charging school bus fees for quite a few years,” explained board chair Moyra Baxter. “It has made our system much more efficient because when people have to pay they are committed to getting their kids on the bus. When you are entitled to a place on the bus, you may still drive your kids some of the time.”
At last week’s planning and facilities committee meeting, trustees had four options to choose from to take advantage of the $600,000 transportation funding and opted to make a recommendation to the full school board where the issue will be discussed at its next meeting in mid September.
That recommendation would take the district back to using government-mandated walk-limits for students who live less than four kilometres away from a school (primary grades) or 4.8 km for Grades 4 to 12.
If the recommendation is passed by the board, those outside the walk-limits would ride for free while those inside the limits would pay an annual $250 fee if they decide to ride the bus.
“There’s going to be a lot of pleased parents and there are going to be some parents that question why they are having to pay,” said Baxter. “We haven’t used the old walk-limits for so long. It’s a very complicated issue. It’s always good to receive money but when it is so strictly targeted it makes it difficult.”
Baxter said if the district opted to eliminate all bus fees to accept the $600,000, the district would still have to find $400,000 to balance its budget.
“We had an efficient system and we hope to continue to have an efficient system,” she said. “It’s not going to be that easy and some people aren’t going to be happy.”
Trustees will vote on the recommendation at the school board meeting Sept. 14.