Central Okanagan parents will get a break in student school bus rider fees this year while the school board will look at adding new routes to the service.
Those opportunities have resulted from a $600,000 commitment by the ministry of education for bus transportation subsidization costs and setting a $200 annual fee for each bus rider effective July 1, 2018, to June 30, 2019.
Last year, the school bus rider fee was $250.
School board chair Moyra Baxter said since 2005, the school district supported an equitable transportation fee structure where students were charged fees that ranged from $100 to $250 annually.
In 2016, the education ministry provided an additional $600,000 in transportation funding with the restriction that the funding be applied to eliminate fees for eligible families, those who live beyond the 4.6-kilometre distance to their catchment area school.
Baxter said the school board argued that policy limitation, saying that in rural areas and on the Westside, the distance restriction was not fair for students living on streets with no sidewalks or having to cross major highways.
“That was under the old government in 2016. Now we have a new government and at least for this year they have said you still get the $600,000 and the restrictions to how it is applied have been lifted,” Baxter said.
As a result, the school district budgeted for a net profit of $190,000, which Baxter says will give the school board flexibility to expand the bus service.
“The board is going to have to have a long, hard discussion about how to move forward but we want to bring on more bus routes where there is a demand,” Baxter said. “If we can get fewer parents having to drop off and pick up their kids at a given school, that would be a good thing.”
That demand, she said, is derived from adding bus transportation for Grade 6 entry French Immersion students at Glenrosa Middle School in West Kelowna, transferring reconfigured Grade 9 students from Glenrosa to Mount Boucherie for secondary school programs, new routes in Peachland and to Constable Neil Bruce Middle School in West Kelowna, and for students enrolled in special school district education programs or courses offered at one particular school.
“Certainly with French Immersion, it’s an issue as we want to provide access for students who live near the bridge to get across (West Kelowna) to access the school. If we are going to offer a program like this, we need to ensure students who want to enrol can access it,” she said.
Baxter said the fee structure has also shown that parents respect the system more, rather than having students outside the 4.6 km range not have to pay.
“What happens is a parent will say that’s great, when it snows I can put my child on the bus and not worry about getting them to school on a given day, but otherwise the seat remains empty. I think parents take it more seriously as a service when there is a fee,” she said.
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