CBE parents should expect changes to busing fees and services next school year

Parents of Calgary public school students could be paying more for less when it comes to busing next year.

At Tuesday's public board meeting, trustees passed a motion that will see all Calgary Board of Education transportation expenses covered by provincial transportation funding or user fees alone. 

The motion was brought forward by  trustee Trina Hurdman, who said the board has done all it can to find efficiencies. 

"There might be a tiny bit more, but it's not going to cover a gap right now really," she said. "The only levers we have left are increasing fees and decreasing services. And it could be a combination of either."

The CBE is using $5 million from one-time access to the Infrastructure Maintenance and Renewal grant to fund transportation this year, with an expected $2.5-million deficit. That means the board will now have to cut a minimum of $7.5 million from transportation next year.

But it could be more, since trustees aren't confident the province will maintain current transportation funding, either. 

"We have 23,000 yellow bus riders. Obviously, they're going to have some concerns," said trustee Richard Hehr.

"And we don't know yet exactly what funding will be. Quite frankly, we haven't gotten enough in the past and we're probably not going to get enough in the future. We can anticipate at the very least it's going to be difficult.… But we need a plan."

'This motion is incredibly premature'

But trustee Mike Bradshaw would not support the motion. 

"I want it to be crystal clear to trustees today that the outcome of this motion is going to be increasing busing fees for families and likely a significant impact on alternative programs as parents start to opt out of them due to cost," he said.

 "I believe this motion is incredibly premature. I realize the struggles with timing as we have a new year to plan for in the spring, and the more time we have to plan the better. But I think it's important to pass a good motion instead of a quick motion."

Trustee Lisa Davis disagreed.

"I think that it's actually premature to say what impact if any there will be on alternative programs as we've not prepared a plan yet," she said. 

And Davis said she believes the decision to do this has been delayed over the past few years.

"Bill 1 tied our hands. We couldn't raise fees beyond five per cent even though our costs were increasing beyond five per cent," she said.

"So this is a decision that the board normally would have faced over the last couple of years, but due to legislation did not."

Dollars in the classroom

Trustees who voted in favour said that for them it comes down to one thing.

"Ultimate purpose of this motion is to take away the guesswork for administration, the board does not want reserves to be used or any funding that could be used in the classroom going toward subsidizing transportation," said Hurdman.

It was a sentiment echoed by the majority of trustees.

But while they agreed it's what they must do, trustees said they're scared about what it will ultimately look like.

"Absentee numbers may go up — especially in a week like this with –30 degree weather … so no, it's not just a cut-and-dry motion," said Hurdman. 

The motion ultimately passed by a vote of 6 to 1, with Bradshaw opposing. 

Public engagement to follow

The board then unanimously passed a second motion from Hurdman directing administration to begin obtaining community feedback to support the development of a balanced 2020-21 transportation budget.

"Based on the last motion we passed, we know that transportation will not look the same in the fall, whether in terms of fees or service levels, as it does right now. And this is something that I strongly believe we need to get feedback on from our communities," she said. 

"Transportation affects family life a lot — between child care issues, bus schedules, transportation — even just walking to the bus in the morning. It affects people's everyday lives in such a huge manner that I would strongly believe that they need to have a voice when it comes to what strategy administration will go with moving forward.