FOLLOWING pressure from parents, the Coast Mountains School District has delayed a plan to charge a $20 a month bus fee.
The fee would apply to students attending a school that isn’t within their neighbourhood and French immersion school Ecole Mountainview which is considered a school of choice.
Parents received notice of the fee, which would have generated an estimated $28,000 per year, in a letter sent home on the first day of school this year, Sept. 3.
“The school district now recognizes that parents/guardians were not provided with sufficient notice to prepare for this added cost and/or be given the opportunity to seek alternative options,” reads the recommended action from the district business committee, which was presented to and passed by school trustees at last night’s school board meeting.
“(It is recommended) that the board delay the implementation of the bus fee for service to out-of-catchment riders to September 2014,” reads the motion.
Approximately 140 riders district-wide were affected by the notice.
Nearly $2.2 million dollars this year is marked for student transportation costs, and that figure is anticipated to continue to rise with the increase in fuel costs.
The decision to implement the fee was made during last year’s budget committee meetings, school trustees explained last night.
“We did discuss it (at the budget committee meetings),” said Kitimat trustee Linda Campbell. “However, we implemented it with not as much opportunity for parents to know what’s going on, and I think that’s why we called it back. We thought we could give them more time over this next year to plan so that they know that this will be happening, it’s just been moved back to September 2014.”
School board chair Art Erasmus added that, because of bureaucratic timing, parents who might have wanted to transfer their children to schools in their neighbourhood because of the fee would not necessarily been able to do so.
“With 20/20 hindsight, the latest dates for kids to transfer schools comes long before the budget is approved,” he said.
Notice of the new fee was met with criticism, with some parents of Ecole Mountainview students arguing that that school – the only French immersion school in Terrace – should have a wider catchment area and not be included in the fee plan, and others arguing that the district did not give parents enough notice to ready for the fee.
Ecole Mountainview is designated a “school of choice” in the district, meaning it was subject to the new fee.
Provincial school boards are under increased pressure to find ways to pay for bussing, with some districts across the province implementing a “total fee for service” – meaning that if a student rides the bus, the family is expected to pay for the bus, no matter what neighbourhood the school is in.
Speaking earlier this month, school superintendent Nancy Wells said that this district “did not want to go there,” and came up with its own plan as one alternative to help pay for rising transportation costs.