The Abbotsford school district is running an “imbalance” in its operation of school buses, and a public meeting on Thursday night at Rick Hansen Secondary gathered input from parents.
District treasurer Ray Velestuk said the school-bus disparity – which he referred to as an “imbalance” – for 2010-11 was $280,000, compared to the previous year’s shortfall of $240,000.
But Velestuck said the purpose of the transportation review is not to eliminate the shortfall entirely.
“We’re not trying to balance that, but we’re trying to close the gap a little bit,” he said.
The Abbotsford board of education decided last year to extend the walk limits for students who qualify for free transportation.
Previously, any student who lived more than 3.2 km from their school could ride the bus for free. That distance was then extended for the 2010-11 school year to coincide with Ministry of Education recommendations – 4 km for children from kindergarten to Grade 5, and 4.8 km for Grades 6-12.
Now any child living within those walk limits must pay a fee of $300 per student each year or $500 per family to ride the bus. Students attending a “school of choice” – one not in their catchment area – pay $535 each or $755 per family.
At the time of the decision to extend the walk limits, the district expected an additional $252,600 in revenue from these “courtesy riders,” based on an estimate of 842 students paying $300 each.
Instead, the district recorded a drop in riders. Figures presented at the public meeting indicated total ridership dropped from 2,975 in 2009-10 to 2,395 the following year. Also down were the number of paid riders, from 920 to 435.
Parents attending Thursday’s meeting were asked to provide input, and their ideas will be included in a report to be presented to the board of education by November.
Two parents said the service should be equitable – either everybody pays or nobody pays. Dale Campbell and Ty Sztuhar both pay for their kids to take the school bus, but they said the walk limits are unreasonable.
Campbell said he and his wife both leave the house early for work and cannot drive their 10-year-old daughter to school, but walking the 2.9 km-stretch to school is not a suitable option for her. She would have to travel along McCallum Road – between Huntingdon and King roads – and Campbell said that portion is not safe.
He doesn’t believe families like his should be singled out.
“It’s ludicrous to pay for busing,” he said.
Sztuhar, who has four kids under the age of 16, said he faces a similar situation. His family lives just inside the walk limits, but he’s not comfortable allowing his kids to traverse an area that has no sidewalks or suitable lighting, so he chooses to bus them and pay the fees. He said, in that regard, the system is not fair.
Another public meeting on the school-bus issue takes place Wednesday, Oct. 12 at 7 p.m. in the cafeteria of Abbotsford Collegiate, 2329 Crescent Way.