Some Red Deer public school students will arrive for class up to 40 minutes early next fall, due to bus route changes being fuelled by provincial funding cuts.
At schools such as Grandview Elementary, only one school bus, instead of two, will do all routes to save money. This means the one bus will make two trips, so students will either have to wait for a ride to school, or wait in the school yard for a ride home.
“I’m extremely upset by this ridiculous decision,” said Laura Freeman, mother of a Grandview Elementary School student, in an email she sent to the Red Deer Public School Board.
Freeman compared it to unnecessarily extending an already full work day for adults. “I would like to see you arrive 40 minutes prior to work (after a . . . 25-40 minute bus ride) and hang around outside “playing” before you can start your job.”
How could productivity not be impacted, questioned Freeman, who believes the outcome will be more parents opting to drive their kids than subjecting them to this extra wait time for busing to or from school.
Cody McClintock, associate superintendent of business services of the public school district, said this was not a decision administrators made lightly. But given the loss of the provincial fuel funding grant, he said it was considered a better option than taking money out of the classroom to put towards busing.
The Red Deer Public School board opted to change the busing patterns for Grandview, as well as Mattie McCullough Elementary Schools, West Park Elementary and Middle School, Mountview and G. W. Smith Elementary Schools because of the loss of a fuel subsidy grant from the province.
Some students will not have to wait for a ride as long as others, because the district was able to “pair” some school bus routes for better efficiencies.
According to McClintock, the changes at all six schools will save the division — which contracts bus services with Prairie Bus Lines — a total of $175,000. But even after making these adjustments, the district will be left with a shortfall of $185,000 in the student transportation budget.
McClintock noted the district had a transportation deficit even before the recent loss of the fuel subsidy grant. Part of the reason is that the province only funds busing for students who live 2.4 km from school. This was considered a long way for young children to walk, McClintock said, so the district decided some time ago to bus all students who live further than 1.6 km.
“Part of it is due to the choices we made locally,” made in the students’ best interest, he added.
The school bus “double routing” was already successfully piloted at Mattie McCullough School, said McClintock who didn’t hear many complaints.
But Freeman remains concerns about students waiting outside in inclement weather and about supervision levels. She wonders whether special needs children would get appropriate care while waiting in the school yard.
McClintock said all children will be properly supervised. He noted that supervision was expanded from one person to two at Mattie McCullough School. As for rainy or cold weather, McClintock said school staff will determine when to let students into the building.
Alberta Education spokesperson Tim Chamberlin said his department made the fuel funding cut after being asked to look for efficiencies surrounding the March budget. All school districts have some flexible funding and the ability to make “creative decisions” so busing money does not have to come from the classroom, he added.
But Freeman blames the provincial government for reducing its budget on the backs of “the most vulnerable, who are our future.”