The Abbotsford School District is struggling to keep up with the cost of its bus service amid increasing demand and loss of funding from the province.
After running a deficit of just under $500,000 for the 2018/2019 school year, the district will be facing some tough choices.
“We continue to spend money for transportation services beyond the resources available, which negatively impacts the district’s budget and takes money away from educational services,” said secretary-treasurer Ray Velestuk. “If we didn’t have that loss in transportation, that money would be reinvested.”
At a transportation information meeting on Tuesday, Velestuk addressed a group of over 60 parents and guardians about some key issues the district is facing. Uncertain provincial funding, recruiting and retaining bus drivers, increasing demand and an overextended budget top the list.
The Ministry of Transportation began cutting grants for transportation services in 2012/2013 after nearly a decade of steady funding.
The school district is also wary of a new provincial funding model which may take effect as early as next year. The new model doesn’t appear to have any funding allocated to individual districts for transportation, according to Velestuk.
“[It’s unknown] what funding will look like in that new model and how it will support districts providing student transportation, because [bus services are] not even ministry-mandated. It’s totally optional,” Velestuk said.
Out of the district’s 20,000 students, 2,961 currently take the bus to 41 different routes.
To be eligible for free bus services now, students must live outside of the walk limit of 3.2 kilometres for elementary schools, four kilometres for middle and high schools, have special needs or live near dangerous road crossings. Others are subject to fees.
As part of a recently announced transportation review for the 2019/20 year, an online exchange forum has been launched to facilitate comments, feedback and suggestions from parents to help the district rank the importance of the different issues. The forum will be open until Dec. 20 at 4 p.m.
“We encourage our families, especially those who utilize a school bus to get to and from school, to take some time to provide comments in our online exchange,” said Stan Petersen, chair of the school board.
So far close to 800 parents have contributed to the review.
Parents wishing to contribute can head to: http://bit.ly/ABBY-Transportation-Review.