Angry parents sound off at Winnipeg School Division board meeting over cuts to bus service

1 / 4
Angry parents sound off at Winnipeg School Division board meeting over cuts to bus service

Two dozen parents packed into the board room of the Winnipeg School Division Monday night to give the division a lesson on how cuts in their recently passed budget would affect their children.

Parents who made comments to school board trustees were frustrated over the division's decision to axe a policy that had allowed families to pay for kids to use school buses if they live too close to the school.  

Tim Johnson has two sons, aged four and two, who attend the University of Winnipeg Students' Association's daycare centre. He thought his oldest son would be able to bus to Laura Secord School this fall, but because his Wolseley home is 1.5 kilometres away from their catchment school, his son will not be eligible to take the bus from his daycare for the upcoming school year. 

Johnson said families like his will be forced to make tough decisions between pulling their kids from kindergarten, quitting their jobs or asking for a reduction in the hours they work.

"It directly affects families, and there will be some talk that it only affects a couple hundred families, but that's a couple hundred families with four and five-year-olds that under no circumstances can walk to school on their own at any distance," said Johnson.

The division's current policy gives students who live more than 1.6 kilometres from their catchment school the guarantee of being transported to school. Until now exceptions were made for students who lived closer than the 1.6 kilometres from the school, if the parents paid a monthly fee and if there was a spot open on the bus and it didn't have to be rerouted. 

Johnson's family fits into that category. There are other kids from Laura Secord School that require bus service, that attend their daycare, but starting September 2017, because Johnson's family doesn't meet the distance requirements, they will not be eligible to receive transportation when the bus comes to their daycare. He said he is going to have ask his employer for a reduction in his work hours come September.

"So that I can drop my kids off at school in the morning. Then come back downtown at lunch to pick them up from school and bring them over to daycare and then at the end of the day to pick them up again." Johnson added. 

"That will impact my family because I'll have to do all this commuting and lose money out of pocket on my salary, to offset something that was already a fee for service and that I'd be willing to pay more [for]."

Johnson said he and other parents would be willing to pay more for the "piggyback" service but said the school division didn't even entertain other options when making the decision.

It's a similar situation for Jessia Dubuc. The single mother of two is working toward becoming a diesel mechanic at Red River College. She worries if the policy decision isn't reversed she won't be able to continue working toward becoming certified. 

"For working, that'll be a big thing. I'm going to have to try and cut my hours down and that's really hard to do for any working parent at all. And it's just not going to be feasible. I went to school for a reason and I would like to actually get a job that I can hang onto and right now it's kind of going downhill," said Dubuc.

The Winnipeg School Board made an exception to their procedures at Monday's meeting to ensure they could hear from any parent that wanted to speak and chair Sherri Rollins said the trustees will discuss the issues that were brought up at the meeting.

"We'll continue to talk about it and clearly I think parents will continue to tell the trustees what they want and need," said Rollins.

Rollins said the decision wasn't an easy one to make but that some of the other possible options like staggering school start times had been met with resistance in the past and that this cut affects a smaller amount of families.

Johnson holds hope that the voices of the parents that showed up at Monday's meeting will be heard and that the division will find a solution before the school year starts.