The wheels of the bus may go round and round but the discussion on whether to increase bus fees at Edmonton Public school was actually pretty direct.
Earlier this month, the Board of Trustees unanimously agreed to increase the fees for some students who ride yellow bus as well as ETS to get to school.
I say the discussion was direct on whether to increase fees because in reality Trustees didn’t really have much of a choice. After voting to deplete almost all of our reserves to cover a $34.4 million dollar budget shortfall earlier this Fall and then faced with a transportation deficit of $7.7 million there really were few options other than passing a fee increase along to families.
And let me be clear, this increase will affect some families — about 11,000 — or two groups of students:
- Kindergarten students. For the first time since 2005 kindergarten families will have to pay to ride the bus. For kindergarteners who attend their designated school or a French immersion program they will now pay $33/month. Kindergarteners who attend an alternative program will pay $60/month, on par with what students in all other grades currently pay.
- Students previously covered under Bill One. The UCP scrapped Bill One and also eliminated the grant which helped school boards offset transportation costs as a result of this bill. For EPSB this means $5.3 million less but it also means we can now charge students who live 2.4 km or more from their designated school.
Bill One or an Act to Reduce School Fees was introduced by the previous NDP government in 2017. This bill removed the ability for school boards across Alberta to charge transportation fees for students who live 2.4 kilometres or more from their designated school. At the same time, school boards were provided with the School Fee Reduction grant for transportation, which helped reduce the amount of fees parents paid for busing.
And while I say the conversation was direct, the decision was still not easy. Asking families to pay more mid-year for transportation is not ideal and I understand won’t be easy for some families.
The goal of the Board of Trustees this year, as well as the goal for our superintendent is to minimize the disruption to classrooms. By spending reserve dollars to cushion the $34.4 million dollars shortfall in provincial funding and by asking parents to pay a bit more for bussing is helping keeping dollars in the classroom.
Again, I felt as if we as a board had no good options as we made these difficult decisions. Currently, our Division pays more for transportation services than we receive in user fees. For the last several years, we subsidized this gap using Division surplus funds. And as I’ve already indicated, with our reserve fund now depleted, we are no longer able to do this.
Here are a few scenarios that show the change in busing fees, starting February 1
- Students attending their designated school 2.4 kilometres or more away: change from $0/month currently to $33/month for the remainder of this school year.
- For families who use ETS busing and their children attend their designated Grade 7-12 school 2.4 kilometres or more away: change from $19/month currently to $60/month for the remainder of the school year.
- For kindergarten students attending their designated school 2.4 kilometres or more away: change from $0/month currently to $33/month for the remainder of this school year. Attending a bilingual or immersion program: change from $0/month currently to $33/month for the remainder of this school year.Attending another alternative program(not bilingual or immersion): change from $0/month currently to $60 for the remainder of the school year.
Despite this fee increase, there’s still a financial reality facing Edmonton Public next year. This fee increase will help us bridge a portion of our funding gap for this year it will not cover it entirely. Our funding gap for transportation will continue if the current revised fee structure remains in place. We must change how we run our buses and how much we charge families to ride the bus.
In January, myself and my fellow Trustees will be coming back to you with a survey to learn more about your priorities related to transportation. What service do you want and what are you willing to pay for it? Our fiscal situation demands that we have this conversation.
To listen to a full interview on the decision to increase bus fees, please take a listen to this conversation with Ryan Jespersen.
And please, if you have any questions, concerns, feedback on anything get in touch.