Rally in Maple Ridge to retain school bus service

Trustees host budget meeting Wednesday at Thomas Haney secondary.

The demand to retain school bus service will be a key message when the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows School District hosts its budget public input Wednesday at Thomas Haney secondary.

Parents and students rallied in front of Garibaldi secondary on Friday after school, about 75 people holding signs with messages like “Access to school denied,” “9.6 km to school” and “$10 million in cuts.”

They also had a rented school bus as a backdrop, bearing the sign “Save our buses.”

A steady stream of cars driving past on Dewdney Trunk Road honked in support.

The school board has cut regular bus service, which transports 370 students who are mostly in the eastern rural communities of the district, to save $650,000. The service is scheduled to be discontinued in September.

Parents are lobbying to keep it.

“I have no way to get my kids home from school,” said Erinn Mate.

Her children, ages 12,10 and six, are six kilometers from Webster’s Corners elementary, where they attend because Albion elementary is full.

“I’m in Surrey a lot – and I can’t get back in time. And my husband works in Coquitlam. There’s no way – they can’t walk, there’s no sidewalks,” she said.

“I don’t mind paying, but not having a bus I’m not okay with.”

Pascale Shaw, a parent and rally organizer, asserts that the province has earmarked money for busing in the funds it gives the board.

“Why is the $1.8 million that the district receives each year for ‘supplement for geographical factor,’ which used to be the ‘transportation and housing’ line? Why is that money allowed to be spent on something other than transportation?” she asks.

“The government did not attach any strings to that, so the district can spend it on whatever they want.

“We just want to raise awareness, and we need a bus,” she added. “We have to fight, and we have to get them to find the money.”

Samantha Brackman has two children who go to Webster’s Corners elementary and pointed out that bus service is consistent with the environmental and carbon reduction goals of the board and senior government.

“Environmentally it’s a great thing to have the bus – less traffic and less people on the road.”

The board will go over the highlights of its $135 million budget for 2016-2017. The budget document notes that the board has “addressed $10 million in funding shortfalls” over the past three years due to declining enrolment and rising costs.

Enrolment is up by 400 students this year.

This year and next, the province tasked all districts with finding administrative savings, and that for School District No. 42 is $1.35 million.

Other measures the board has taken: having students bring their own online device ($147,000); general supplies reduction ($189,000); energy savings ($300,000).

School board chair Mike Murray said principals and vice-principals have had their salaries frozen since 2009, but those staff members are now being allowed a raise.

“We need to address that, and government is finally turning their attention to that.”

Murray said the board is looking into whether parents can have their transportation needs met by either TransLink or a private operator.

A survey of parents is asking whether they would be willing to pay $150 per month, per child for school bus service from First Student Canada. Some parents have said that is too expensive.

“People are welcome to attend on the 20th. We’re happy to hear what people have to say, and we’ll make decisions after that,” said Murray.

Wednesday’s meeting begins at 6 p.m.

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