Rocky View Schools (RVS) Board of Trustees needs the help of parents and staff to help solve its transportation-funding crisis, according to board chair Todd Brand.
“We are facing what will become, in our next budget year, a $1-million deficit that we expect to be annual in our transportation budget, which is, obviously, very significant,” he said. “We are reaching out to our public to give us input on options that we think could help solve some of the deficit and help us get to a balanced budget.”
RVS has struggled to fund its busing/transportation program for a number of years. Brand said while transportation costs have risen by 17.83 per cent since 2008, grant revenues have only increased by 1.27 percent over the same period. The board decided to cover shortfalls in previous years by gradually increasing bus fees and taking money out of the transportation budget reserve – originally approximately $2 million – but that pot is now completely dry.
“You add in two other things that really had an impact on us – one is the carbon levy that had a fairly pronounced impact on our budget. I believe the estimation for this upcoming year is over the $300,000 mark,” he said. “A third thing is… removing the bus fees for (students) living more than 2.4 kilometers from their designated school.”
Brand said the province is giving some of that money back to the division in the form of a Transportation Fee Replacement Grant; however, the grant is based on 2015/16 fees and enrolment numbers.
“When you’re in a fast-growing school division, that’s really a detriment because now we have a number of students using the transportation system and yet we’re not getting the fee replacement grant for those students,” he said. “That also has an impact on our budget.”
Brand said the division is not legally allowed to submit a deficit budget to Alberta Education so will need to figure out a way to cover the impending $1-million transportation deficit.
“Unfortunately, without question, most of the options are not positive options; they are not good options per se but they will work,” he said. “They are options that have implications for families and schools and staff as well.”
One option is to take money from the instructional budget. Brand said he and the rest of the board don’t believe this to be in the best interests of students.
“That is a course of action that many boards do use across the province, but it’s not something that any board wants to do or is pleased about doing because that’s money that you want to see directed into the classroom and not into our bus system,” he said.
The consultation process began Jan. 25 when the division sent a letter home to parents in which they were asked to read information about the transportation funding crisis and then complete an online survey, which included some proposed cost-saving measures. Public meetings are planned for mid-February and a second survey will go home in March to ask parents to select from a number of options. The board will debate and discuss the outcome of the public engagement at its April 12 meeting.
Brand said it’s important all parents take part in the engagement process.
“There could be a tendency for people at first glance to say, ‘Well, my kids don’t use the bus so it really doesn’t concern me what happens,’” he said. “It’s important that people know whether your children are using the bus or not, there are impacts.”
More information is available on the RVS website at rockyview.ab.ca