With bus fees for Calgary students
CAPSC calls for additional transportation funding
CAPSC requests that the CBE invest in the technology and training recommended in the independent technical review, and that Alberta Learning provide additional short-term funding to support transportation of special needs students in the CBE system.
Improving public consultation on issues affecting Alberta’s largest public school system is a step in the right direction. Recently, the CBE brought forward six possible scenarios to manage thegap in transportation funding, with cost to parents ranging from the existing $300 up to $750 per student.
All of the scenarios were designed to fit the limitations of budget allotted to transportation. As a result, all compromise service or require higher fees from families, but provide minimal benefit. If one of these models is implemented, we anticipate that even more families will choose to drive, reducing the number of students paying into the system and making it even less viable. Traffic congestion and impact on the environment will continue.
The CBE has an annual $1.3 billion budget, and plans to use $48 million on transportation next year. The provincial funding model earmarks $35 million for this purpose, so $13 million is needed to bridge the difference between the funding model and actual cost. As parents already pay $8 million with existing transportation fees, an additional $5 million will be required to maintain the current standard, which many families do not find adequate. This is more than double the $2.2 million that the CBE estimated to restore congregated stops last September.
In an April survey, parents clearly indicated their two top priorities – reducing walk distances to bus stops for younger students, as well as the amount of time spent on the bus. Yet only one of the new scenarios reduces the walk distance for younger children, but increases potential ride time to 1.5 hours.
It is clear that more funding and new strategies for transportation are required.
First, we encourage the CBE to continue working towards creating better service. The independent technical review identified gaps in appropriate technology and planning tools, which we understand that the CBE is moving to correct. It is unfortunate that the analysis did not outline reasons why some of the CBE’s busing proposals are so much more expensive than other Calgary or Edmonton major school boards. We would expect that the cost of transportation should drop if efficiencies are found and when schools open next year.
As CAPSC executive outlined in our September 2015 meeting with Education Minister David Eggen, a high proportion of the cost of transportation applies to assisting the 2000 special needs students in the CBE system.
History shows that special needs busing has required more support, with costs increasing from $12.7 million to $16.7 million (32 percent) over three years. During the same period, the cost of regular and alternative program busing was reduced by almost $3 million, from $25 million to $22.3 million.
As CAPSC stated last fall, we can all agree that supporting these vulnerable students is a priority. However, surely we can also agree that all students require age-appropriate walk distances that reflect the reality of our winters. Most of the scenarios now being considered require that kindergarten to Grade 4 students walk 1.6 km to a yellow bus stop – significantly longer than the distance an adult would to catch a Calgary Transit bus and four times further than other metro school boards.
Our current government made an election promise to reduce education fees to parents. Yet transportation fees seem likely to increase in the CBE system, where parents already pay double the average in school fees.
Providing quality transportation services for Calgary’s children is not optional. All children must reach the classroom safely and efficiently in order to learn.
Currently there is not sufficient capacity in Calgary’s outlying schools. Alternative programs serve the system by helping to fill empty schools in the inner city. According to the FOIP documents prepared for trustees, the average cost for regular and alternative program busing was $875 per rider.
Maintaining these programs allows the CBE to better meet individual learning needs of students, which has been outlined as a priority in education. It would be a shame to see alternative programs become elitist if affordability becomes an issue. Given that most are second-language programs, and the government is now focused on diversification of Alberta’s economy, certainly we can see the value of having our citizens being able to function fluently in more than one language on the global stage. If a child leaves a language program due to limited family funds, it is challenging to return.
We ask the Minister to provide additional funding for the 2000 special needs students in Calgary’s system, even if only in the short term as the CBE researches possible efficiencies. This funding would directly benefit the 26,000 students taking yellow buses. It would also demonstrate a commitment to supporting family budgets, solving traffic problems, reducing impact on the environment, and most importantly – putting students first.
We trust that Alberta Education agrees that continuing to raise fees and decrease service is not reasonable in a publicly funded education system, especially during this financially challenging time. We expect the Minister will remain involved in this situation to ensure Calgary’s public students receive adequate service at a reasonable cost.
Wherever the funding comes from, let’s not leave Calgary’s kids out in the cold.