We want you to know that we were encouraged by Minister of Education David Eggen’s response when we met with him on September 21 to discuss concerns expressed by our members. (Currently, CAPSC represents 40,000 children via school council and individual memberships.) We appreciate that the Minister met with us so quickly to consult on both transportation and budget. In last week’s Global TV clip, Minister Eggen acknowledged that CAPSC’s concerns are legitimate.
In the interview, Minister Eggen suggested that 1.6 and 1.8 km may potentially be workable. We want to ensure that he fully understands what walking this distance means for families, and so have invited him and fellow stakeholders to join us on our Walk a Kilometre in My Shoes event on Tuesday, October 6th. We are asking those who can impact these decisions to see what this distance actually means when walked with a six-year-old child, and to show empathy and commitment in addressing key parental concerns about transportation issues.
Transportation was top of our list in our meeting with the Minister, as it is a basic requirement that children reach the classroom safely each day. Minister Eggen indicated in the meeting that protecting the safety of Calgary’s students is a high priority. We eagerly wait to hear how he will ensure that our children will be kept safe from long exposures in extreme temperatures.
We explained that the CBE’s current transportation plan requires children as young as six to walk 1.6 km to bus stops. Calgary parents are justifiably worried. Canadian Paediatric Societyrecommendations state that children should not be sent outside if the temperature or windchill is -27°C or less. While walking this distance to a school is more reasonable as a building stays in one place, buses are not always reliable. In winter, children walk and could wait considerable time in temperatures where skin can freeze in minutes. Their caregivers and younger siblings will make the trip back and forth from bus stops four times.
As longer distances to stops pose a real threat to the well-being of children and their families, we continue to ask that last year’s walk limits be restored until public consultation has taken place. In contrast, we understand that the CSSD caps their walk distance to bus stops at 800 m – half the distance the CBE is now using. In addition, the CBE’s own March 2014 guidelines recommend against allowing children out for a 15 minute recess when the temperature is below -20°. At -25° C, outdoor-based off-site activities should be postponed or cancelled. Their document states the guideline is comparable to other school jurisdictions in Alberta and across Canada.
We also hear much concern from parents in regard to the strategy to move middle school students to public transportation. The cost of transportation will double to $650 for these children, and CBE subsidies previously in place have been removed. As Grade 5 and 6 students are as young as nine, parents will pay an additional $275 – $295 for noon supervision service on top of the Calgary Transit fee.
The Calgary Herald agrees that the CBE needs better consultation and planning on transportation strategies.
Last spring, the new NDP government restored funding to school boards, with the provision that it must be spent at the school level. We discussed our concern that despite his instruction, 22 per cent of that funding does not appear to be reaching the classroom, and provided Minister Eggen with data to show that documentation of funding use is not transparent.
This 22 per cent of funding is equal to $270 million – which would pay for 2700 tenured teachers, or 5400 aides. As the Minister has previously stated in the media that he instructed school boards to ensure all new funding reaches the classroom, we formally asked him to complete a third party review on how these funds are being spent.
We discussed the high price families pay to support schools through required instructional, transportation and noon supervision fees, as well as donations and school council supports. Transportation service is significantly reduced this year, and children continue to share essentials such as math textbooks and lockers. In addition, school councils raise funds for everything from sewing machines to early reading books to technology used in classrooms.
In this Metro article, the CBE confirmed that 22 percent of funding grants did not reach school budgets, based on last August’s system budget numbers.
We look forward to having stakeholders begin to inform themselves about the reality of public school transportation and traffic safety issues by joining in the Walk A Kilometre event. Stay tuned for news on the Minister’s next move!