The Sooke School District is in a “state of crisis” as it tries to deal with too many students and to few buses, says education board chair Ravi Parmar.
Yesterday, the board sent out a letter asking parents to opt out of registration if their child does not need a school bus, because the district can’t compensate for the amount of riders signed up this year.
There has been nearly a 50 per cent increase in the number of bus registrations since the fees were eliminated in 2016. Parmar said the 1,400 new registrations are likely because parents wanted to take advantage that it is now free for students to ride the bus.
Since dropping the fees, the district received $350,000 from the province to cover about 3,300 bus riders.
Over the first month of school, about 3,600 out of the 4,100 students registered in the district have been taking the bus.
“Right now that budget is a flat amount, it doesn’t grow as the district grows, or over time,” Parmar said.
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The board of education has written to the minister of education asking for $175,000 in additional funds to add three morel routes and cover the cost of the current 3,600 riders.
School district superintendent Jim Cambridge said the district is using unfunded spare buses to run around and pick up the extra students each day.
“When fees were removed, it was not anticipated that parents uptake would be higher,” Cambridge said. “If we get funding we will turn these in to regular routes not overflow routes.”
Should the district not receive the extra funding, Parmar said the board may be forced to pull money from classrooms, which would mean less services for students.
“There’s so much inconsistency with busing, and my belief is that we are trying to do too much for too many people with bus routes,” Parmar said. “We thought when we received funding for transportation that it would fix a lot of problems, but it’s obviously caused more problems than it’s fixed.”
Cambridge said the board would like to create a busing committee that would involve parents as part of a long-term solution.
“They may have to impose a potential walk limit for students who live within a certain distance from the school, or maybe add a courtesy rider fee just to curb ridership for next year,” said Cambridge.
Parmar said the board hopes to hear back from the minister by next Tuesday, and that the government will look in to increasing the budget each school year.
“We’re hopeful the minister will see that the funding formula for student transportation is broken,” he said. “It makes no sense why our number is not increasing when our district over the past few years has grown substantially.”