ATHABASCA — Families within students in Aspen View Public Schools (AVPS) will see new and increased bus fees for the coming school year.
Trustees wrestled with the decision to increase the fees on the heels of a pandemic at their May 27 meeting, but the cost of running a deficit in transportation would mean having to take money out of the classroom.
“Historically, Aspen View Public Schools has had limited transportation fees, but due to the rising costs of contracts and other expenses, it is necessary to increase and implement some additional transportation fees to ensure that we can continue the service and safety of our students without taking instructional money from the classroom,” said secretary-treasurer Aimee Hirtle.
Eligible students outside the 2.4-kilometre radius of their school have been riding for no charge, but that will go up to $75 per student with a maximum of 2.5 times the fee, or $187.50, per family.
“Right now we are charging $75 per student and the recommendation is to increase that to $150 with a family max of two and a half times the fee,” she said.
That works out to $375 and Hirtle noted there are no transportation grants funding ineligible students.
Ineligible students reside less than 2.4 km from the school, while alternate refers to students who sometimes take a bus to an address different from their home. School-of-choice students are those that make the decision to attend school in a different town, even though they could take classes where they live.
“For alternate, right now we're charging $75 per student and the recommendation is to increase that to $150 with no cap and school-of-choice right now we are charging zero and the recommendation is to increase that to $75 per student with a family max of two and a half times the fee.”
Hirtle noted it was due to the pandemic AVPS was able to realize any savings on transportation this school year.
“Due to COVID, some kids weren't riding the bus; we were able to amalgamate some routes,” she said. “There were some times we were shut down, where we only pay 80 per cent of our contract during that time because busses aren't running. So yes, we were able definitely able to recognize some savings this year.”
Most of the trustees viewed the fees as a way to support students, noting there has been a gap in learning during the pandemic.
“We never like putting fees to our parents at any time but going forward, for our classrooms, for our families, for our students, it's important that we have the people in the classrooms to help our students,” said trustee Anne Karczmarczyk. “We've had such a loss of in-classroom learning in the last two years and I think it's upon us to make sure that we have the supports in place, and these transportation fees will help with that.”
Chair Candy Nikipelo noted AVPS is behind neighbouring school divisions who increased fees much sooner.
“I'm very proud of the fact that we have tried very hard to keep our transportation fees nil or low and it is a difficult decision to make, but in looking at our budget numbers I think we're making the responsible decision and the responsible choice today,” she said.
Supt. Neil O’Shea made note that AVPS supports some contractors with licensing requirements and the insurance market is volatile, adding to the burden of funding bussing.
“So, it's never an easy decision, but I applaud the fact that we are looking at allocating out the maximum amount of dollars to the classroom for students,” he said.
The fees will start in the 2021-22 school year.