Parents in rural Maple Ridge aren’t letting go of their school bus service without a fight.
They are getting organized through social media, publicly demonstrating with their children, posting signs that say, “We need our school buses,” and writing Education Minister Peter Fassbender and Premier Christy Clark.
The Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows school board voted to cut regular bus service for the 2016-2017 school year, in order to save $650,000 per year.
“It has such a huge impact on us. There are people considering moving, and thinking about changing jobs,” said Pascale Shaw, a parent in Whonnock. Her kids are almost 10 km away from their school. They moved from Stave Falls five years ago specifically so her children could attend Whonnock elementary and Garibaldi secondary.
“It has caused a lot of stress in our household,” she said.
Trustees called cutting bus service an unsavoury decision, and noted that there is no plan in place to help the 370 students affected.
Most of the students who ride the bus attend three schools: Garibaldi secondary, 202; Whonnock elementary, 70; and Webster’s Corners elementary, 54.
Erin Smeed is in the Whonnock elementary catchment, even though she can see Albion elementary from her back deck. But she would be happy to continue putting her kids on the bus to travel 9 km to Whonnock.
“We really enjoy the school,” she said. “It’s a nice, welcoming community.”
Instead, she will have her children eventually both transfer to Alouette elementary, which is more convenient for her than Whonnock.
She has been a vocal advocate for bus parents, writing letters to the editor and to the district office. Education is a right in Canada, and if government can’t build a neighbourhood school for children, it should at least provide transportation to one, she asserts.
Dorothy Green said the board hasn’t given enough weight to the safety of students. Her son has to travel almost 9.9 km to Garibaldi, and it has taken him 40 minutes by bike. It costs his mom in grey hair.
“Nobody drives the posted speed, and they’re not watching for kids on the road.”
She noted that her kids have been late when the bus had to detour for bears on the road. Safety from wildlife is a real consideration.
Anita Brierly’s youngest son is going into Grade 5 at Webster’s Corners, even though they live in walking distance to Albion elementary. A single parent, she leaves for work in North Vancouver at 7 a.m.
“The bus is our only option – other than asking another mom to help me out,” she said.
“To me, the government, not the local school board, has an obligation to make sure kids can get to school,” she said.
She suggests that residential developers who building sprawling neighbourhoods in Albion could be part of the solution. “If they’re building family homes, they should cough up some bucks for school bus transportation.”
Shaw said the problem is exacerbated by poor public transit service.
The parents say that because a relatively small number of students ride the bus, the board sees this as a cut that it can make without too much criticism.
They have a page called “Save Maple Ridge School Buses” on Facebook, and it has 61 members.
School Board chairman Mike Murray is sympathetic to the parents, but says consistent budget cutting every year has left the board no palatable options
The Education Ministry asked boards to find administrative savings, and School District 42 has already submitted the a budget which indicates the elimination of bussing in the 2016/17 school year.