Sandspit residents will need to charter their own bus or keep driving their high school-age children to and from the ferry this school year.
Almost 100 Sandspit residents recently petitioned the Haida Gwaii school board to provide a school bus between the village and the ferry ramp at Alliford Bay.
Parents, guardians, and community members said the current situation is not only an unfair and costly hassle, it can also be unsafe given that some students make the 13 km trip by hitchhiking.
“It is not fair for the school district to have a lower safety standard for Sandspit students than for those in all other communities,” said the petition.
Speaking at a March 28 school board meeting, School District 50 (SD50) superintendent Dawna Johnson-Day said during this school year at least, the district’s hands are tied.
Until it lapses next year, the district is contractually bound to give FirstStudent a right of first refusal on any bussing contract, including the Sandspit leg.
The district currently pays the Ohio-based company over $500,000 a year for all its bus services — a cost the school board would dearly like to bring down.
The district put out a call for Sandspit school bussing last May, but the only answer came from FirstStudent, and it was too high.
A few months later, the Sandspit Community Society (SCS) made a separate offer to bus students to and from the ferry using the same shuttle buses that now serve Sandspit Airport.
A regular school bus on Graham Island would take students between Skidegate Landing and GidGalang Kuuyas Naay in Queen Charlotte.
Trustee Elizabeth Condrotte said the idea seems to be a good example of community and school cooperation.
“I really like to see concrete solutions, and that struck me as being quite sensible,” she said.
Trustee Kim Goetzinger agreed.
“I hope the board does all we can to get out of the contract that we have, that is so expensive, and that we work towards supporting our local economy here as well as our budget.”
While it’s not possible this year — not only because of the FirstStudent contract but also because the SCS shuttle is not a designated school bus — Johnson-Day said the shuttle idea will be part of an islands-wide bussing review she hopes to finish by mid-summer.
“This will all be part of what we look for — I’ve been saying ‘no stone unturned as part of this quest,’” she said.
“We have so much at stake, with the escalating costs and challenges we face with the current contractor.”
Although the school district is currently bound to the status quo, Sandspit parents and guardians may be able to pool the transportation subsidy they currently receive from the school district for driving to charter the SCS shuttle themselves.