The Haida Gwaii school board (SD50) is currently asking community members for input on their upcoming budget. This community engagement is refreshing and much needed. I encourage everyone to fill out the survey. It’s brief, but it gives us the opportunity to shape how our children’s education progresses.
We in Tlell have a special budget concern involving the bus system. In 2004, SD50 moved from a local bus service provider (O’Brien Road and Bridge) and signed a contract with FirstStudent (then FirstBus), an off-island company. The savings were nominal, and the contract has increased greatly in cost ever since.
O’Brien, in turn, got rid of all their assets required to serve that contract, so there’s no going back. The cost to run buses for SD50 is over $500,000 now, which is a lot of money that could be used for school programming, such as music or even science at the high school level. As enrolment declines, the share of transportation costs goes up. This isn’t serving our students in the best way possible. For now, the contract runs until June 2018, but there is pressure from the bus company to extend the contract as soon as possible. If we’re going to change this, we have to act now.
We need to think of solutions: return to an on island provider (assets would have to be purchased immediately), develop a public transportation system that students could use, or place the burden back on parents to transport their children with some subsidies (the provincial government now offers $175,000 in additional funding to help with transportation).
The School Act allows us to choose which school in the district we send our kids to, but there is no obligation to provide busing. In fact, our system is overly generous in some regards – having an extra bus from Port to Tlell so students can attend high school down south instead of in Masset. But it’s not equal, as Sandspit has no bus, and is constantly trying to work with the district to find a solution. And if being fair means Port loses one of its buses, maybe that’s the direction we need to go.
Further to the budget concerns, efforts to use the buses for both the south island elementary school and the high school mean that our little elementary students are on the bus for an hour and a half each way – three hours of transportation daily. To be fair, my children don’t take the morning bus, as it passes on the highway roughly at the time when we get up, so we organize our own transportation in the morning. We also juggle various after-school programs and playdates for four kids (I’m including my sister’s kids here) in an effort to not subject them to the long bus ride home every day. It is hard for them, after behaving all day at school, to sit quietly and not eat or goof around with their friends for a full hour and a half.
In short, the current bus scheme is costly and underused due to the way it’s scheduled. I’m even willing, from a busy parent’s perspective, to give up the hour and half of free child care to see some solutions to this problem. I see an entrepreneurial opportunity here, where the money stays local and benefits our economy, or we scrap the buses and the money benefits our students in the school. What do you think? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.