A single bus has been resurrected from the severe transportation budget cuts that were made by the Prince Rupert school district (SD52) thanks to ministry funding dropped to school districts in the final hour prior to the 2016-17 school year.
A partnership between the District of Port Edward and the Metlakatla First Nation, and with money used from the last-minute funding, the two bodies have bought school bus service from First Canada to get students from Port Edward and Metlakatla to school.
Out of a pot of $117,597 that was provided to the school district by the Ministry of Education this past August, it was determined that $85,000 of it would be used to pay for the Port Edward/Metlakatla bus service, which is equal to two hours of service per day.
The entire transportation budget for students going to and from school, minus the handicap busing, was slashed in April when SD52 faced down $2.4 million in budget cuts, their largest in recent memory.
“Ensuring our students in middle and high school will have guaranteed transportation throughout the year, without placing an increased burden on parents, was a key goal of council coming into the school year. We are happy to work with the Metlakatla Governing Council and the Prince Rupert school district to reach a solution that meets the needs of everyone,” said Port Edward Mayor Dave MacDonald in a joint press release from Port Edward, SD52 and Metlakatla.
Metlakatla Chief Harold Leighton echoed Mayor MacDonald’s remarks.
“This agreement is a great example of how people throughout the North Coast can come together to resolve a problem in a way that truly benefits everyone. Students from Metlakatla and Port Edward experience similar circumstances when it comes to accessing education, so it only makes sense that the leadership of both communities come together with the education provider to ensure their uninterrupted learning,” said Chief Leighton.
The First Canada contract will be held by Port Edward with the funds provided by the Ministry of Education, which specified that the $117,597 must be used for transportation.
The bus route hits Port Edward first to deliver students to school before picking up Metlakatla students in the morning. In the afternoons, the bus will take Metlakatla students to the waiting ferry after school, then transport Port Edward students from the middle school and high school back home.
The remainder of the funds will have $15,000 used toward reducing the cost of a public transit student bus pass from $40 per month to $30 in coordination with the City of Prince Rupert, with the remaining $17,597 to be used at the superintendent’s discretion to help schools provide bus passes to families in need and help fund field trips for students.
The Ministry of Education needs to give final approval before the funds can be used.
It was important to board of education chair Tina Last that all parents can be helped with the pot of money, not just Metlakatla and Port Edward families.
“We wanted a reserve left to help parents whose students use the bus and now would have to rely on public transportation,” she said. “We’ve made this pot available and I really hope parents utilize it.”
Not all families were satisfied with the board’s decision, including Denise Eshom, who stated that her young daughter using a public bus to get to school is not an option in the old Westview school/Pineridge Elementary area.
“I have a seven- and 10-year old who cross a four-lane provincial highway down a crosswalk. They have to go half a kilometre over to get to the only crosswalk on Park Avenue (“Four Corners”) and then they travel down busy Park Avenue where there are semi [trucks] travelling,” she said at the school board meeting Sept. 13.
After the announcement in August, Eshom called her school board trustee liaison for Pineridge school and asked what can be done with the new funding.
“They said nothing will be decided before the September board meeting, so I thought that meant we had time – can we please reinstate yellow school bus service to the Westview [area]? There was no indication to any of the parties that that was a possibility. To come to them with a proposal,” she said.
Last stated that she was invited to a meeting with Port Ed, Metlakatla and First Canada in early September and had to make a quick decision, as the board doesn’t meet over the summer.
“I called an emergency meeting of the board. I said Metlakatla and Port Ed have come to us and this is what they’d like to do. Time is of the essence, will we approve $85,000?” said Last.
The board approved those funds then and the remainder of the funds on Sept. 13.
“If parents aren’t comfortable putting their students on city transit, then they are responsible for getting their kids to school. We are not providing busing … We are still not in the transportation business. The only reason we’re having this conversation is because the ministry released new money earmarked for transportation to 60 school districts. This is our portion,” said the board chair.
Parents were advised to ask contract holder Port Edward council if there was a way to add a Westview/Pineridge area leg to the bus route.