Sooke school bus changes, higher fees possible

Sooke parents could see changes to how their child gets to school once the board of education presents its 2016 budget.

Sooke parents could see changes to how their child gets to school once the board of education presents its 2016 budget.

The school district subsidizes many of its bus routes and needs to look at ways to manage transportation costs and find efficiencies.

The Sooke School District, however, will seek “substantial public input” before any changes are made,” said Bob Phillips, the new board chairman.

It’s not yet clear what form those efficiencies could take, but Phillips said increased fees and changes to transportation services are being considered.

“There will be consultation. Busing is a big issue in this part of the district, and it’s certainly not an option for families living in Shirley, Otter Point or East Sooke,” he said.

In the past, busing was funded by the district. Now parents and the district share the costs.

The busing issue came to a head this fall when school began and demand for transportation outpaced resources available. The district was forced to use spare buses to answer the need.

Last week the board received approval from the Education Ministry to buy four new buses.

Much of the problem is the growth of the district where more than 300 students enrolled in September. To keep up with the demand on bus services, the district was forced to add another route in Sooke.

School trustee Margot Swinburnson said the district needs to look at how it delivers transportation services.

“We need to look forward,” she said.

Perhaps the answer, she said, is some form of partnership with B.C. Transit where there is a sharing of resources, particularly in the area west of Sooke.

Parents have said they don’t mind higher fees for busing if they get good service and there is no untoward on early pick up and late arrivals, Phillips said.

“We really need the parents to tell us what are their goals and aspirations and limits,” he said.

The Sooke School District has an annual operating budget of $97.1 million. The 2016 budget must be approved by May.