Board defends bus cancellation

  • Apr. 15, 2009 5:00 p.m.

The school board’s decision to cancel the bus run which takes high school students from Port Clements to Masset was defended by trustees at a budget consultation meeting Thursday in Port (April 9). School board vice-chair Christine Martynuik told parents that the number of Port students choosing to attend high school in Masset has fallen to the point where a bus run is no longer affordable. “A bus for six children for $70,000 does not make fiscal sense,” she said. “No one could agree with that.” Ms Martynuik said that in a way, Port parents had made the decision by choosing to send the majority of their children to high school in Queen Charlotte, thus reducing the number travelling to Masset to an unsustainable level. She also said that the decision to cancel the run had been made at a public school board meeting held in Port Clements which any parent could have attended. “We don’t want to be the bad guys here,” she said after listening to several complaints. “Let’s find a solution.” But solutions were in short supply. The parents of the remaining G.M. Dawson students who live in Port will face a tough choice when the bus stops running in September: either send their children on the much longer bus route to Queen Charlotte Secondary, or drive the 100 km round trip to Masset twice a day. Parent Tammy Ryland, whose daughter will be attending G.M. Dawson next year, told trustees that there may be only seven students taking the Tlell-Port bus next year and suggested that route be eliminated. She also asked what other cuts were being considered. School district secretary treasurer Ken Campbell said he is working on the budget for the coming year, so there is still time for parents to provide their opinions about what services they value. But he warned that with fewer students, the board is going to have to reduce spending. He will present a draft budget to the public in May, and trustees must approve the budget by the end of June. Ms Martynuik said transportation becomes more challenging every year. The province gives this district $291,000 annually to provide bus service, an amount which has not changed since 1991. This year, the district will spend around $385,000 on busing, she said. The difference between the two amounts comes out of the general budget, and is money that could be spent on teachers or special assistants instead. Parent Kim Larocque said the school district should be lobbying the province to get the money it needs. “It almost requires a public revolt to government,” she said. “We need to ask for a big change at much higher level.” But Mr. Campbell responded that overall, the islands have a good level of public education. “While I recognize every year we sit in front of you guys and say we have to make cuts, we have it pretty good here,” he said. “There were two ministries that didn’t get cut this year by the government, education and health.” The Kelowna school district is considering a $20 per month charge for all children who ride the school bus, Mr. Campbell said, and perhaps that could be considered here. The district is not obligated to provide bus service to students, he added.