We appreciate the information that you have provided over the past few months about how changes to busing have affected you. The volume of emails and comments received on our petition confirmed that these changes have been stressful and troubling for families.
Last week, CAPSC’s opinion editorial in the Calgary Herald detailed information accessed through a Freedom of Information (FOIP) request.
As vice president Greg Oberti outlined in a media interview, details of the FOIP raise three main points of concern for our executive – the safety of children, transparency around decision-making and consultation of parents, and managing of cost. We were disappointed to resort to a FOIP request to learn the history behind these changes, and hope that such information will be made easily available on request in future.
We thank the Minister of Education for announcing an investigation of the current situation with transportation. This step is necessary to restore the trust of families, as reviewing what went wrong is essential in moving toward positive change.
The CBE’s own rules state that stakeholders must be consulted about issues affecting them before decisions are made. A key finding in the FOIP report was this reference – “March 2014 Transportation Fee Analysis Report proposed a three year strategy in which current walk zones would be phased out and the provincial walk zone of 2.4 km… would be phased in.” This information was presented to the Board of Trustees in a private meeting on April 28, 2015 – a year later.
While the CBE did survey parents about transportation in February 2015, the reference to the report quoted above suggests major changes had been under consideration for over a year. We have deep concern about the delay in revealing this strategy to trustees as well as parents.
The FOIP results also show that dollars allocated to transportation of alternative and regular program students have been reduced by almost three million dollars over the last few years.
We note with appreciation that Trustee Hurdman’s ‘Extraordinary Monitoring’ motion passed in September, with Trustees Hurdman, Hehr, Hrdlicka, and Stewart voting in favour. Significant documentation supported this motion, which focuses on both transparency and accountability.
We understand that the CBE has hired an independent consultant to ensure its route design is efficient. This is a positive first step and partially fulfills one of the requests of CAPSC’s petition. We hope CBE will make this report available to the public once it is completed.
Last week’s Council of School Councils meeting on public engagement was also a step in the right direction. In light of that discussion, we have a few questions to which we trust the CBE will provide answers.
- In the October 6, 2015 board meeting, administration stated they had reviewed their own actions and believed they had complied with consultation policies. As the CBE has since indicated the February transportation survey was primarily done to prepare for contract negotiations, what other measures were used to consult with parents?
- Are trustees satisfied with administration’s self-assessment? Or do they agree that more oversight is needed?
- The FOIP report noted that administration costs for transportation increased by 77 per cent between 2013 and 2015, from 1.1 million to 1.9 million from 2013-2015. CBE recently advised this was due to transaction costs associated with online fee payment. Is that the only related cost? If so, this $800,000 increase equates to a 10 per cent charge on the $8.1 million in fees collected – a significant premium for this type of service, which should be under 2 per cent. To put it in context, $800,000 would pay for 16 additional buses, or could help restore the eliminated Calgary Transit subsidies.
The foundation of true consultation is first providing meaningful data on the current situation. We hope that all parents will take the opportunity to participate in the CBE’s planned public engagement process, and that the background information we have provided will help create needed change.