Parents and students gathered in front of Garibaldi secondary on Friday to protest against cutting school buses.

Parents and students gathered in front of Garibaldi secondary on Friday to protest against cutting school buses.

Parents make plea for school buses in Maple Ridge

Suggest doubling service fee they pay now.

Bus parents are confident they made compelling arguments to school board trustees at Wednesday’s budget input meeting and that bus services will be restored for 2016-2017.

“Obviously, there’s impassioned pleas here for service,” said Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows School Board chair Mike Murray. “And we totally get that. We appreciate and respect the concerns and the frustrations that people have brought forward.”

He added that the board will reconsider the budget over the next week.

“We’re at a stage in the process where we’ve heard what everyone has said to us. We’ll consider that and the additional input we may receive in writing before next week, and sit down and figure out what it is we need to do.”

The board proposes cutting regular bussing for 370 students beginning in September, in order to save $650,000 per year.

At the two-hour public meeting, the board heard 12 verbal presentations, and half were from the parents lobbying for restored bus service. There were more supporters in the audience of about 60 people, many with signs.

“It was our moment to really show how passionate we are for this cause, and that there isn’t another alternative,” said Paula Blamey, one of the campaign leaders.

“I could see we connected with them on an emotional level, because they too have children.”

She took it as a positive that the board is willing to review her group’s 10 ideas to maintain bussing.

“We came in here with some solutions for this busing issue,” said Blamey.

Pascale Shaw said those include increasing the bus fee from $215 per year to $430 per year, reviewing bus routes to make them more efficient and capture more riders, and reviewing catchment boundaries.

The board still faces tough budget decisions for the coming year, even though enrolment and funding have increased.

Secretary treasurer Flavia Coughlan explained that even though the board had an increase of 418 more students than budget projections, and received the resulting per pupil funding from Victoria, the board must still find cuts.

There is a surplus of $1.56 million for the current year, which has been transferred to a contingency reserve. That money is available to the board for the current year.

But the board is not anticipating change in enrolment for the coming year. The ongoing increase in revenue has been carried forward to the 2016-2017 budget, she said.

“We would be in a surplus position if we didn’t have to find administrative savings,” added Coughlan.

The board is still required by the province to find $1.35 million in administrative savings this year and next, and that must be presented in a separate report to government.

If the board doesn’t cut bussing, it would have to show government where else it would find $650,000 in savings, Coughlan explained.

The board would have had a $290,000 surplus in the coming year, but with the demand for administrative savings, it is now in a position of a $340,000 shortfall, she said.

Murray also took issue with MP Marc Dalton’s assertion, in writing, that local education funding is at the highest rate ever. Murray said the government’s increases in funding don’t cover increased costs.

“We’ve cut $10 million and we’re looking at more,” he said.

According to school district figures, local per-student funding has increased from $6,000 to $8,500 since 2002-2003. But after salary increases, benefits, inflation and other cost increases, the amount of per student funding has actually declined, from $5,500 to $5,200 over the same period.

The budget is scheduled for final approval at the board’s next meeting on April 27.