Parents are petitioning the provincial government as the school board considers charging them for school bus service.
The District Parent Advisory Council (DPAC) for School District 20 have launched a petition calling on the provincial government “to immediately transfer $100,000,000 from its LNG Prosperity Fund to our public K-12 schools across the province to increase levels of services to all students and to stop any further erosion of the same!”
The petition was launched as a result of the School District 20 board of trustees proposing to charge parents $200 per year per child (up to a maximum of $500) for busing. While the decision is coming from the board, parents recognize that it is a result of provincial budget cuts.
“We’ve chosen to align ourselves with the trustees and the KCTU (Kootenay Columbia Teachers’ Union) and CUPE, which is the support workers, to say that we’re not happy that this is what the trustees have chosen to do — I mean that’s their choice — but we do feel that they have been pressured into this,” explains Rebecca McDonnell, chair of DPAC.
The petition is directed to BC Minister of Education Mike Bernier and DPAC hopes to ask local MLA Katrina Conroy to present it to the ministry in its behalf.
The board of trustees supports the petition.
“We have a collaborative media campaign going on over the next … eight weeks … to encourage citizens to write to the current government and ask for more funding for K-12 education,” says Teri Ferworn, chair of the board of trustees.
At a board meeting on Monday night, trustees read the budget bylaw introducing the new busing charges for the first and second time. They are expected to approve the bylaw at a meeting on Friday, April 29 at 5 p.m. in room 210 of the Kootenay-Columbia Learning Centre Trail campus.
Ferworn says the idea of charging parents for busing came about as a result of the $210,467 “administrative savings” required by the ministry this year. It was the only way the board could find to balance the budget without making any cuts to programs or classrooms.
“That was what we were trying to protect were the classrooms and the programs that we have that, you know, some times don’t have as high enrollments, but we still want to keep them because they provide a great deal of enrichment,” says Ferworm. Programs would include elective classes.
School District 20 has closed many schools over the past years to try meet the BC government’s 95 per cent occupancy in schools. The fact that the district has already made so many sacrifices is frustrating to both parents and the board.
Parents are frustrated because when the schools closed down they were assured their children would be able to reach their new campuses by bus.
“Lots of local schools were closed around this district, and parents at the time of the school closures obviously protested, and they were assured by trustees at the time that it really wasn’t a concern, that there would always be … buses provided to take their children to school,” says McDonnell.
The board is frustrated because despite closing schools in the district, the ministry still expects them to do their part in implementing administrative savings.
“Even though we’ve been thrifty and have been doing everything that we can, we’re still being punished by having the administrative savings,” says Ferworn.
At Monday night’s meeting trustees approved submitting a second budget to the ministry — one showing a deficit, the expenses that the trustees had to cut and the expenses the trustees would like to be able to afford, like a substance abuse counsellor. Though the trustees are legally required to submit a balanced budget, the Needs Budget is meant to communicate their frustration at the deep cuts that have been handed down from the ministry.
Those who would like to sign the petition can do so by visiting any SD 20 school.