Sooke School District bus students could soon get a free ride.
The district will receive a $358,000 grant from the B.C. Education Ministry this week to help pay for student bus services.
There’s a catch to that free ride though.
While it will remove fees for catchment area students, those who aren’t in catchment radius are subject to the same yearly fees of $225, said education board chair Bob Phillips, adding every school has its own proximity requirements.
For Journey Middle and Edward Milne Community schools, the range goes from East Sooke to Port Renfrew, while elementary schools have much smaller catchment areas.
The Sooke School District has 503 students out of the school proximity area, largely due to specialty programs located at specific schools, such as French immersion and academies.
International students also need to pay for their own school busing services.
Phillips said the school board’s bigger concern is how many waivers, or non-payers, for school bus services there will be in the new school year, as district officials need to allocate additional funds to subsidize the school budget.
Last year, Sooke School District transported 2,700 students by bus, most from the district’s rural areas, but if that number swells this year, which is expected, there may be some issues.
“If our enrolment is high and it breaks in the wrong financial direction that means we have to put in another bus route at $30,000,” Phillips said, adding the cost remains the same regardless of distance.
Phillips gave the example of what would happen if a child was enrolled in special programs, like the Grade 5 class running out of Sooke Elementary, similar to a modified nature program.
“Let’s say your child lived in Otter Point and there was a space and you want to get them into that program, you’d be out of catchment,” he said.
The other out of catchment scenario would be a child with special needs who would be more suitable for a better program at one elementary school, compared to another, Phillips added.
Much to parents’ dismay, routes could be altered based on volume and where the students are located.
“As soon as you change your bus route, some gain and some lose, so it’s not to say that the routes wouldn’t be played around with,” Philips said.
As far as the grant is concerned, nothing is yet set in stone, said Sooke School District spokesperson Lindsay Vogan.
“They need to decide if students who take the bus to a school not in their catchment will need to pay or not,” she said, adding that the government fund can only be put towards student bus fees who take the bus to their local or catchment school.
Vogan pointed out the situation is complicated, which is why the discussion between parents and the school board is ongoing.