School District staff proposing fees for riding school bus

Derek Kilbourn

Sounder News

Tuesday, May 5 2015

Parents may have to pay for their children to ride school buses in the Gabriola school district, starting in 2016/17, if a proposal brought to the Board is approved.

It should be noted, this “might-be” tale is one that stems from a single report given to the Board a week ago by Pete Sabo, Director of Planning and Operations for the Nanaimo-Ladysmith School District 68.

Sabo’s report was on facilities and operations as the Board continues to look for ways to cut expenses and generate revenue and present a balanced budget for 2015/16 to the provincial government

Within the report, Sabo stated that the Board could consider a number of transportation options to cut costs and increase revenue:

• eliminate courtesy rider spaces in the proposed 2015/16 budget;

• greater use of transportation assistance as alternative to providing busing services;

• reconfigure bus routes in September 2015 to align with calendar changes;

• purchase and implement student tracking and on-line registration software;

• investigate the potential for implementation for eligible riders in 2016/17 school year.

Board Chair Steve Rae said the proposal is in its infancy, and nothing has been approved yet.

“When this Board came on, we felt an obligation to turn over every rock possible to try and find other ways to generate revenue without laying people off.

“The provincial government underfunds education - and we are in the business of education.

“When it is underfunded, we have few options on how we can go forward and it impacts our employees.”

Rae said all the Board asked of Sabo and his team was to look into possibilities.

“They’ll come back with their findings and recommendations and at the time we’ll decide if that’s something we want to pursue. Until we vote to approve or disapprove, it’s all talk. There is no way anyone on this board is going to stop someone from riding the bus if they can’t afford it. But we need to look at all possibilities moving forward. Any revenue we can generate - that’s one less person getting laid off.”

What Rae, or anyone else from SD68, was unable to say was how various factors would be overcome by some of the proposals.

Rae confirmed though that even just the brief report from Sabo has made the transportation proposal a hot one with parents - and not just the idea of having to pay for students to ride the bus.

There are also concerns with how safe it is to put young children (such as Kindergartners and Grade 1 students) onto public transit buses without their parents or someone from the school district with them.

Or how the District would get around any union contract requirements which are in place to ensure the school bus drivers are the ones transporting students to and from the schools.

Dale Burgos, Director of Communications for SD68, said on Thursday last week the Board hasn’t looked at those kinds of details yet, as the bigger conversation about the budget is still being put on the table. The Board had one of many upcoming budget and planning meetings scheduled for Thursday night.

After that meeting, the only change to the transportation proposal was a note that if students are bused from the Cedar zone to Ladysmith Secondary School, it would create a net zero effect on the elimination of courtesy riders from the SD68 transportation system.

The next meeting of the Board is scheduled for tonight, Tuesday, May 5, at the Shaw Auditorium in the Nanaimo Convention Centre at 6:00 p.m.