CAPSC executive believes that parent consultation in matters concerning our children is of key importance to membership. Having access to detailed data is a critical part of understanding the situation and allowing an informed discussion of options going forward. It is our hope that the information provided here will allow parents to fully participate in upcoming consultations on transportation with the CBE.
With winter fast approaching, parents continue to have concerns about the CBE’s 2015/16 reductions to bus service. Now that snow is falling and temperatures are getting colder, long walk distances will cause even more challenges for students.
In September, the CBE moved to congregated bus stops requiring students to walk 1.6 -1.8 km, double the distance of any other urban board in Alberta. All subsidies for Calgary Transit riders have also been removed, placing a higher burden on families. With only four days notice of the actual routes, parents were both shocked and upset.
Last May, CAPSC executive asked the CBE for the numbers and rationale behind the changes. As no real answers have been supplied, we recently submitted a Freedom of Information (FOIP) request.
The documents are troubling.
Minutes from a private meeting in April 2015 refer to a transportation report a year earlier, indicating a move to 2.4 km walk distances for all children. We are disappointed this possibility was not voiced publicly, especially in the February 2015 transportation survey for parents. Parents cannot participate fully if they lack critical information.
The FOIP documents show transportation costs have escalated significantly over the past three years. Special needs busing requires more support, with costs in this area increasing from $12.7 to $16.7 million (32 per cent). During the same period, the cost of regular/alternative program busing was reduced by $3 million, from $25 million to $22.3 million. The other significant increase in cost is for transportation administration – a 77 per cent increase in three years.
Everyone can agree that all special needs children must have their needs met, without exception. But surely stakeholders can also acknowledge that all children require age-appropriate walk distances that reflect the reality of our winter climate. We should not expect six-year-olds to walk four times the distance an adult would to catch a Calgary Transit bus.
For some time, alternate program students have paid a price in reduced service. Consider that popular alternate programs serve to move children from densely packed outlying areas into the less crowded inner city, leaving more regular program children to stay in their home communities instead of being bused to overflow schools. We hope that a clearer view of the financial picture will put the ‘alternate vs. regular program’ argument to rest, and stop pitting parents against each other.
CBE administration and trustees have recognized that consultation is an issue. While we appreciate the desire to improve engagement, the proposed price tag is up to $500,000. This money, together with the $2.2 million cost to fix walk distances over 1.8 km and the $30 fee reduction in yellow school bus fees, would have gone a long way toward preventing the massive cuts to service in the first place.
Before we ask families and government to put more money into education during a financially challenging time, we ask for clarity on how the CBE uses public dollars they already have since they can choose to use discretionary funds. We thank Trustee Hurdman for requesting a financial breakdown in May 2015, and hope that other trustees will support this voice for transparency.
Imagine what might have happened a year ago if the CBE had shared details. Parents, CBE, and government could have worked together to find a better solution. Let’s not miss another opportunity to fix it.
Our children deserve better. We ask trustees, government, and MLAs to ensure real accountability and transparency, and to work together to find a solution that reflects the needs of Calgary’s children. We look forward to seeing leadership on this issue emerge.
Lisa Davis, Stephen Henderson, Michael McIntosh, Jillian Millar Drysdale, and Greg Oberti on behalf of Calgary Association of Parents and School Councils (CAPSC)