Busing cuts would be hardship for rural families

Some families will be forced to move if buses become a budget casualty.

Most of the school district’s 14,000 students will be unaffected by the elimination of school buses, but some rural families in Maple Ridge simply don’t know how they are going to get their kids to school.

Some families will be forced to move if buses become a budget casualty, trustees heard at a public meeting on transportation hosted by School District 42 on Wednesday at Garibaldi secondary.

“Who is going to make sure our kids get home safe,” asked Miroslaw Mitera.

He noted that the route for kids in his area is on a road with no lights or sidewalks. There are also bears and cougars in the area.

Another parent noted a bus stop had to be moved because a cougar had been seen near it.

“You’re taking away something that parents rely on to make sure their children get home safe. You guys have got to give your heads a shake,” he added.

“What’s the point of a classroom if a kid can’t get there,” called another member of the audience.

“You’re right, we should be considering safety,” responded board chair Mike Murray.

He added that the school board would deal with city hall, which bears the responsibility for pedestrian safety.

“Can we expect improvements in TransLink services,” asked another parent, noting that her daughter gets home from school at 5:30 p.m. when using the public transit system.

Inadequate public bussing was a common theme.

The board offered an information package for parents, and included a letter from TransLink in response to its questions about potential service increases. It essentially says the results of the transit referendum will determine whether the transit authority can afford improvements.

The board included budget information, stating it is facing an operating shortfall of $1.68 million for 2015-2016, and another $1.44 million the following year. It charges bus students $215 per year, but still subsidizes heavily. There are now 370 students who ride the bus to and from school. There are two full buses, transporting 109 students to Garibaldi, where each student is subsidized $876 per year. There are 10 more buses that are not full. They transport 261 students, and the subsidy is $2,063 for those children.

Overall, the 12 buses are 63 per cent full.

Cutting bussing, which would begin in September 2016, could save the district $645,000. Other nearby districts, including Delta and Coquitlam, have already eliminated buses.

Parents urged the board to look at combining routes to be more efficient, hire a different contractor, and otherwise look for savings.

“It’s a terrible situation you’re in, having to submit a balanced budget in an under-funded education system,” said Ian Strachan, a former school principal who has grandchildren who ride the buses.

He urged the board to submit two budgets – one that is balanced, and one that maintains service levels, to show the difference between how much funding the board gets, and how much it needs.

“As a grandparent, I’m really sick to see where public education is going,” he added.

There was a recall petition for Maple Ridge-Mission MLA Marc Dalton near the entrance to the school.

“There’s a ton of angry parents here. I hope you all hold the MLA accountable,” said Courtney Cardy. “Go sign the recall.”

Kristan Fehr said her 11-year-old son will have to go do daycare if bus service is cut, and the boy feels he is too old for that. She wanted him to go the microphone, but spoke on his behalf.

“It’s important to hear from kids, because it effects them,” she said. “He’s 11 – I don’t want him walking an hour to and from school.”

Has the decision already been made, asked one parent.

Murray said the final call will be made next week, on April 29, during the budget process.