CAPSC | Giving parents a voice

Dear CAPSC Members;

Most parents are now aware of how changes to CBE bus services affect their families.
The stakeholder contact form at the bottom of this message was created in the hope that Calgary MLAs and other stakeholders also believe that education is of critical importance and will take action on behalf of Calgary parents. We have also initiated a petition asking stakeholders to take action.

As has been recently reported in the news, Calgary parents are deeply concerned about the CBE’s recent busing changes.  CAPSC represents 72 CBE school councils - totaling 40,000 students - plus an additional 1,000 member families. We are an independent, volunteer driven organization that accepts no funding from school boards or government.  We continue to advocate on behalf of parents on this and other issues involving education.

​In June we met with CBE trustees to request they (a) immediately release proposed routes so parents had time to plan, (b) provide data showing how the current system was unsustainable - 750 new riders is an average of three per school and hardly a crisis, and (c) complete an independent transportation review to determine why such aggressive changes were necessary.  We have also advised all Calgary MLAs of the concerns parents have forwarded to us, and also advised the Minister's office.  In addition, we have done several media interviews to share the concerns parents have been forwarding to us.

Overview of Concerns about 2015/16 Changes to Transportation

1 – No Consultation about Major Reduction in Transportation Services
Just before the end of the school year, CBE announced they would make major changes to the busing of our children in 2015/16. Contrary to their own administrative regulations, they did not consult parents of the over 30,000 children who bus.

• CBE documents confirm that decisions to overhaul the system were discussed in December.

• A transportation study was completed in February, but no mention was made of congregated stops, the removal of subsidy for middle and junior high students, nor the moving of children as young as 11 onto Calgary Transit and the potential need to transfer.  We note​ the general public announcement about a system-wide move to congregated stops did not come out until May.

• Parents have continually expressed concern and asked for more information, but no details were released until a few days before school started.

• When schedules were revealed, parents were specifically instructed that stop changes related to distance would not be considered.

• The CBE has only said that they will hold a meeting about transportation sometime this fall.

We are unclear of the need for such drastic changes.  The increase in Calgary enrolment this year means the CBE expects about 750 new students to take the bus - an average of three new students per school.  How does this require such a large increase in costs for parents?  In addition, new schools being built should remove a large number of children from the bus when they open in one or two years.  Why such massive changes given a natural solution is at hand?

2 – Congregated Yellow Bus Stops
Parents have raised serious concerns about student safety and the challenge of getting children to the bus stop. 
• Congregated stops mean that young elementary school children could walk up to 1.5 km one way to their bus stop. A 1.5 km walk with a six-year-old can easily take 25 minutes or longer.
• Older students may walk up to 2.5 km.
• Some families report that bus service has been cut to their community altogether.
• Consider that distances between Calgary Transit stops designed for adult use are much closer together.
• Cuts to service don’t end with congregated stops. Some parents report that once on the bus, their children will travel longer distances through more communities to reach the school.

3 -  Impact on Schedules and Childcare
Parents were only advised on August 27th of the new routes, although we asked for information when the move to congregated stops was first announced in spring.
• Many families are scrambling to see if they can make changes to work schedules to ensure the safety of their children.
• We have heard from many parents about how these cuts to bus service jeopardize their employment. Parents should not have to decide between the safety of their children and the security of their jobs.

4 – More Calgary Transit Riders
CBE is moving toward having middle school and junior high school children take Calgary Transit, provided they can get to school with only one transfer.
• In the CBE system middle school includes grades 5 and 6, so those students may be as young as nine.
• While a yellow bus is supervised and the school deals with any issues taking place there, children on Calgary Transit will be left on their own to cope with problems.
• Middle and junior high school students who now take Calgary Transit to get to school will have their bus fees more than double (from $300 to $650).
• CBE unexpectedly ended Calgary Transit rebates this spring. Parents with two children in junior high who take the bus will pay $1500 per year when their school fees are factored in.
• Given the economic challenges families are currently facing, the combination of higher fees and reduced service is a major shock.

4 – Concerns about Transportation and Related Fees
• Parents have absorbed significant fee increases in recent years. If you look at noon supervision fees, for example, you see the CBE charges $285 vs the Catholic Board's $80. 
• 
Although there is a small reduction of $30 in bus fees in comparison to last year, the reduction in service is massive.
• One of our member schools reviewed their school budget, and was surprised to see that $40,000 (roughly 25 per cent) of lunch supervision fees were not spent in the school itself.
• Parents who cannot pay transportation or noon supervision are offered a waiver of fees.  However, those waivers are subsidized by parents who can pay! This cost is significant.
• What will happen next year when waivers increase, given that thousands of Calgarians have lost their jobs or taken reduced pay in order to keep their jobs?

Is this the public education we have in mind for our children?

5 – Role of the Province
We do not believe at this time Alberta Education is fully aware of all of the factors related to parent fees. In the three weeks between the CBE’s release of the interim budget and then final budget, transportation funding declined by $5 million - so the number of children going from yellow bus to Calgary Transit service is significant.
Last spring and throughout the summer, many parents wrote to the CBE to express concern about these proposed changes. They received reassurance that the new provincial government would provide more support to education. However, the restoration of funding by the NDP government did not alter the CBE's move to congregated stops.
Although Alberta Education recently did a survey of fees, we are unclear at this point whether that survey included amounts parents must pay to Calgary Transit.  We would hope that any review of fees accurately reflects these as well.

Where to go from here?
We have a situation where a publicly funded, billion dollar corporation entrusted with the care of our children:
• ignored their own rules about consultation
• reduced safety for students across Calgary
• doubled bus fees for a significant group of children
• has not shared critical information on a timely basis.

As parents are not receiving answers from the CBE, we are turning to the provincial government. Ultimately, responsibility for oversight of the CBE rests with Minister Eggen, who we know has expressed grave reservations about the significant school fees parents pay.

No clarity exists on how fees and provincial bus subsidies are being applied.  Before more funding is supplied by families or the government, we request confirmation on how funds are being allocated. We encourage Minister Eggen to complete an independent financial review of transportation fees at the CBE.  Such a review should include a member of CAPSC as a representative for parents.

​Regards,
Lisa Davis
CAPSC President​

SIGN THE PETITION

We are asking that stakeholders in public education:
• require the CBE to restore bus stop walk times to previous levels
• initiate immediate, true public consultation on transportation strategies
• begin an independent financial review of transportation fees, including Calgary Transit fees paid by parents.

Add your name to the petition to help us restore transportation for CBE students.

CONTACT THE STAKEHOLDERS

This stakeholder contact form link allows you to communicate directly with members of the provincial government. Your comments will be sent to the Honourable David Eggen, Minister of Education and your MLA. Copies will also be sent to Premier Rachel Notley, Joe Ceci, Minister of Finance, Kathleen Ganley, Minister of Justice and Solicitor General, and Irfan Sabir, Minister of Human Services. CAPSC also receives a copy of your correspondence.

You may consider writing or calling CBE other stakeholders who share responsibility for transportation concerns. They include:
• Chief Superintendent David Stevenson
• CBE Transportation
• The elected trustee for your school
• Your principal
www.cbe.ab.ca/about-us/contact-us/Pages/directory.aspx

Your school council is also an excellent resource and a forum for concerns of this nature.