There may be hope yet for student transportation this September.
The province announced last Wednesday that school districts can apply for a $14.7 million fund to help pay for student bus services.
Prince Rupert has $117,597 available in funding. To qualify the Prince Rupert School District (SD52) has until Sept. 30 to submit a plan to the Ministry of Education on how to improve transportation services by adding new routes, reducing ride times, providing services to students with disabilities and improving access to public transit.
In the spring, SD52 faced a $1.9 million budget shortfall and board members made the tough decision to cut student transportation. The district saved $130,000 by removing school buses and $160,000 was saved by cutting the Metlakatla ferry. Board of education chair Tina Last said any new funding is welcome but it doesn’t quite cover what is needed for student transportation.
“We have some options whether it’s helping with bus passes, or restoring busing. The board has to discuss it and weigh our options,” Last said. “We’re hoping we can help out families that now have to figure out how to transport their own kids.”
She said that the board is already busy forming options to see what can be done with the new provincial funding. The next SD52 board meeting is Sept. 12 and decisions will be made on how to improve the student transportation situation.
The Metlakatla Governing Council is in discussion with the province and Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada regarding the cutback of transportation funding for its students. “While those talks are ongoing, we are taking every step necessary to ensure Metlakatla youth will be in school for the first day of classes and will have uninterrupted access to education going forward,” said the Metlakatla Governing Council.
Education Minister Mike Bernier announced the fund on Wednesday and that districts will be required to report to the ministry on the outcomes and benefits of the funding. But the criteria also includes “funding existing transportation services and inviting the savings into enhanced student services,” read the ministry statement. That would make the grant effectively part of the district’s general revenue.
To qualify, school districts would have to drop fees charged to parents for school bus service. Fees have been charged in Central Okanagan, Chilliwack, Langley, Maple Ridge, Peace River North, Sooke, Saanich and Cowichan school districts.
It’s the third funding injection for schools in recent months. As the school year wound down in June, Bernier announced another $2 million fund where districts could apply to keep rural schools open that were scheduled to be closed.
Bernier also announced this spring he was reinstating $25 million in administration savings required from districts.
The school bus funding formula is weighted towards districts with large rural areas. Coast Mountains (Terrace and Kitimat district) can apply for $557,786, Haida Gwaii can access $149,851 and the Bulkley Valley district can apply for $163,737.
With files from Tom Fletcher