Parents lobby to keep Maple Ridge school bus service

District issues survey about private provider.

Their kids are going to be walking and cycling down rural roads where drivers speed and bears are frequently spotted, for trips to school that are almost 10 km one way.

That’s the message parents are sending the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows School Board as they lobby for school bus service to not be eliminated across the district in September.

Trustees voted to cut regular bus service in order to save $650,000 a year. They called cutting bus service an unsavoury decision, and noted at the time 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.

Parents are planning a rally outside Garibaldi secondary Friday at 2:45 p.m., and they are putting together impact statements that will be presented to the board at its public input meeting for the budget on April 20 at Thomas Haney secondary.

Close to 50 parents gathered Thursday to discuss their situations and what can be done.

“It will be pretty dire straits for a lot of them,” said Scott Susin, one of the people organizing the parent lobby. “The school district has basically told these parents that their kids can walk to school.”

But for some in rural Whonnock, children would face trips that are too long to be taken without a vehicle. Parents who have to leave home early to get to work on time are still questioning how to get their kids to and from school. Their options are not good – some will have to leave work early, and it will cost them wages, said Susin.

“It’s the whole issue of underfunding education,” said Susin. “These families and kids are being denied their access to education because of funding issues.”

He said the parents will urge the board to get creative, and make the bus system more efficient, rather than eliminating it.

School Board chair Mike Murray said the board is listening.

The district sent out a survey on Tuesday, exploring interest in having school bus transportation provider First Student Canada providing service in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows for a fee for the 2016-2017 school year.

“Our intent is to hear what everyone has to say,” said Murray of next week’s public input meeting.

He said the board is still in a deficit situation, and is projected to face funding shortfalls over the next several years. He said the province has ordered administrative savings of all districts in the province. And it has downloaded costs of its Next Generation online network and salary increases for exempt staff to districts.

He said there may be solutions for parents, such as before and after school care. The district and city will also lobby for an enhanced public transit system.

“We understand the frustration people have with the loss of a service they’ve had for a long time,” said Murray.