While the CBE has sent out a lot of information around transportation and bell time changes for September, there still appears to be confusion around which decisions were made provincially, and which were made by the CBE.
- Regulations around which students are considered to be eligible for transportation: Provincial transportation funding is meant to be used for K-12 students who attend their regular designated school and live further than 2.4km away from the school.
- Regulations around who pays fees: The following is an excerpt from the document “Bill 1 Key Messages and FAQs” from the province (pg. 6).
- Definition of what is considered a school of choice: All alternative programs as defined by the School Act Section 21, are considered a school of choice. This includes French Immersion. Special education programs are not considered schools of choice.
- Amount that can be charged in fees: While the CBE recommends a fee amount based on its analysis of transportation needs, the province now has final approval of all fee amounts as a result of Bill 1. The Minister has also been clear that fees should not go up and that general education funding meant for instruction should not be used to subsidize transportation costs.
- Waivers: Bill 1 also requires the Minister to approve all waiver policies. The CBE is currently working with the Education Ministry in order to develop a new waiver policy.
- Transportation funding: Funding is based on a formula that estimates the number of “expected eligible passengers”. (Note that a yellow school bus costs approximately $55,000/year to run and a youth Calgary Transit pass will cost $700 in September. Also, according to an independent transportation analysis, the CBE spends $7,611/student with exceptional needs which was found to be “reasonable” and “within the expected range”).
While the CBE had been in the process of moving towards a sustainable transportation system that did not depend on the use of general CBE revenues to subsidize the cost of transportation, the introduction of Bill 1 in March required the CBE to accelerate the process to come up with a plan for this September. Unfortunately, this did not allow time for the CBE to present a plan to the public, get feedback, and make any possible adjustments. Thus, the CBE used the input gathered from the significant public engagement around transportation done last Spring to create a plan which:
- does not increase yellow school bus fees;
- is funded solely through provincial transportation funding and fees;
- continues to provide transportation services to alternative programs;
- continues to provide yellow school bus services to students who live between 1.6km and 2.4km of their designated elementary school.
This plan necessitates changing the bell times at many schools in order to create greater transportation efficiencies. Since the CBE pays for a certain number of hours for a bus, not the number of routes, if the same bus can do a route for one school that starts earlier, and then do a second route for another school that starts later, it cuts down transportation costs. Rather than transporting only one busload of students, one bus can then transport double the number of students. This should not be confused with one bus picking up students but then dropping them off at two different schools (eg. an elementary and then a junior high) as this bus would still only be transporting a single busload of students.
The plan also requires greater use of congregated stops for alternative programs in order to eliminate routes with fewer than 30 students on a bus. This means that rather than having to stop in many communities to pick up a few children in each, there may only be one stop that serves several communities. A bus would then go to a few of these congregated stops in order to get a greater number of students on the bus within a reasonable ride time. However, this also means that students in alternative programs may not have a stop within walking distance, depending on how many students there are in their community that go to the same alternative program.
Finally, the plan requires that more junior high students in alternative programs use Calgary Transit to get to school. While Calgary Catholic and Edmonton Public have been using public transportation for junior high students in both regular and alternative programs for many years, the CBE has tried to respond to the wishes of parents and keep as many junior high students on yellow school buses as possible. Unfortunately, this is no longer financially feasible.
I know that these changes will pose significant challenges for some families and that some families may simply be unable to choose certain alternative programs going forward. As someone who has continually pushed for greater community input in decision making, I, too, am unhappy that this tight timeline does not allow time for feedback and possible changes. However, I know that the CBE transportation team has done its very best to come up with a plan that incorporates as much of what they heard from parents last year as possible given the new provincial restrictions. I appreciate the work that they have put into this, and I anticipate that they will be open to adjustments in the future where possible, but right now their priority has to be on clearly communicating these changes and redeveloping approximately 1100 bus routes in time for September. To help them with this, please encourage everyone you know who may be accessing yellow school bus services next year to pre-register by June 5. Payment (if applicable) is not required until October.
If you have any further questions, I encourage you to read everything on the CBE website around the changes as well as information provided during the transportation engagement last year. For questions specific to your school, please talk with your principal. For questions around the plan in general, please contact the CBE transportation department.
- Trustee Election 2017
- CBE 2017-18 Budget