Despite the impact the move will have on the division’s budget, the Board of Trustees of Rocky View Schools (RVS) voted unanimously Aug. 24 to reduce the proposed fees for busing students who live less than 2.4 kilometres (kms) from their school or prefer to attend a school other than their designated one.
The Board of Trustees voted to increase fees but retain waivers for some students at its May 4 meeting. Fees were increased to $325 per student in most cases, with a limit of $650 per family.
However, the increased fees were not accepted by Minister of Education David Eggen, leaving trustees with little option but to cover the shortfall in funding by taking the money from general operating reserves.
Eggen set the amount RVS could charge per student at $280, a reduction of $45. The impact is a loss in revenues of $147,023, money which has to come from somewhere.
Under Bill 1: A Bill to Reduce School Fees, announced by the province March 2, school boards are no longer allowed to charge busing fees for students who live 2.4 kms or greater from their designated school. For a school division such as RVS, which has significant rural representation, the bill has a big impact on revenues.
According to Darrell Couture, associate superintendent of business and operations, Eggen’s rationale for lowering the amount RVS was allowed to charge for busing was based on the amount of the proposed increase.
“Really, it was all about what the increase was. It isn’t about what you historically charge, the fairness between jurisdictions,” he said.
The division has a projected deficit in the transportation budget for 2017-18 of $790, 296, up from $643,273 in 2016-17. Transportation reserves are currently sitting at approximately $1.2 million. After this year’s deficit is covered, the remaining reserves are $722,842, $67,454 shy of what is required.
Ward 1 Trustee Norma Lang said she felt the division’s hands were tied and “sad there has to be two layers here where some people are going to benefit from the direction from the province to have no school fees and transportation fees next year and other people will have to pay.”
Ward 3 Trustee Todd Brand said he felt transportation was “under-funded and mis-funded by the government.
“I am all in favour of reduced bus fees. I’m much more in favour of no bus fees,” he said. “Public schooling is something that should be provided for. It’s at great expense to our province but it should be provided for through our tax system so parents can afford to send their kids to public school and afford to have them transported.”
Board Chair Colleen Munro said she was disappointed and concerned by the province’s introduction of Bill 1 and its impacts.
“What I’m most concerned about is the stripping away of the power that trustees have at this board table to make decisions about our communities. Boards of trustees have a whole lot of responsibility but not a lot of authority when it comes to making decisions and this is just one more piece of that creep that seems to be happening.”