The Central Okanagan Board of Education has approved a school bus fee increase for the 2022-23 school year from $300 to $350.
The fees are accessed to cover the deficit cost of operating a school bus transportation system beyond the $3.8 million subsidy allocated from the school district operating budget.
The actual operating cost for school buses in for the 2020-21 year was $5,078,815, projected to rise to $5,430,239 for 2021-22 and $5,745,239 for 2022-23.
The funding is generated within the school district budget otherwise intended for school program support and operations because the ministry of education as abdicated any fiscal responsibility to provide specific money for school bus services.
The province only provides $600,000 for overall school district transportation costs.
As a result, many school districts dropped the bus service, but Central Okanagan Public Schools has felt the service should be provided.
Trustee Norah Bowman said she understands the need for fees to be charged from a financial operating perspective, but feels fundamentally the province should cover all school busing costs, at no charge to parents.
“Nobody should have to pay for a school bus ride at all but this is the best we can do with a widely inadequate situation,” Bowman said.
A $200 fee per student was introduced to offset school busing costs back in 2010 and it has steadily increased in the years since.
Bowman noted it was a Liberal government that adopted the no school bus funding policy and she hopes the current NDP government will see fit to change that fiscal philosophy.
Board chair Moyra Baxter agreed with Bowman’s sentiments, saying it sometimes is hard to breathe when students are dismissed from school due to idling vehicle fumes as parents wait to pick up their kids.
“From an environment sustainability and climate change perspective, that makes no sense. The yellow sch0ol bus is the best and safest way to get kids to and from school,” Baxter said.
Concerns were also raised that since the fee was set at a committee meeting nearly a month ago, gas prices have escalated rapidly due to the Russia invasion of Ukraine.
Fuel costs budgeted for $60,000 has now gone up to $150,000 as gas prices climb past $2/litre, a cost that secretary-treasurer Ryan Stierman acknowledged will have to be accounted for if high gas prices persist, as it will for all school district service vehicles.