Proposals that could see significant cuts to school bus service and force hundreds of students to find new ways to get to class are being considered by Abbotsford school district trustees.
As it faces another budget shortfall, the district is looking at cutting its transportation spending, which ran to $3 million last year. A study commissioned by the district suggests three-quarters of the 2,722 regular riders of the system either live within walk limits set by the district, or attend schools of choice, to which they are not entitled to transportation.
The district has nevertheless been providing transportation for those students who, like other riders, pay $300 each, or $500 per family.
To qualify for bus service, kindergarten-to-Grade 5 students must live farther than four kilometres from their catchment school, while middle and secondary students must live more than 4.8 kilometres from school. It had been hoped that by providing rides to students within those limits but along existing bus routes, empty seats would be filled while the district garnered more revenue.
But district secretary-treasurer Ray Velestuk said that even with 863 such students riding the bus to their local catchment school, the revenue gain hasn’t been sufficient to make up for transportation spending’s drain on the district’s resources.
“We just haven’t seen that direct relationship” between increased access to bus services and significantly higher revenue, Velestuk said.
Similarly, providing transportation to the 1,224 students who take a bus to a school of choice has also increased expenses. The study calculated that the district spends $937 per rider each year to provide bus service to students.
Velestuk said trustees will make the final decision on changes to busing. They will be presented with options to decrease services.
One proposal on the books would eliminate service for students attending schools of choice, or residing beyond the four- or 4.8-kilometre limit.
If such a policy were in place this year, 2,087 bus riders – or three of every four bus riders – would be ineligible. Only 888 riders would remain. Such a move would save the district more than $1 million.
Velestuk cautioned that such a move would likely be phased in. The district is proposing some reductions in services for next fall, and the proposed budget envisions $200,000 in savings – although that figure is a conservative estimate, Velestuk said.
The study suggests a move to enforce walk limits and curtail service to schools of choice, which would affect some schools much more than others.
Three-quarters of the district’s bus riders, or 2,052 students, attend middle and secondary schools. Of those, the majority attend schools of choice.
Abbotsford Middle Traditional, Abbotsford Traditional, ASIA Sumas Campus, W.J. Mouat secondary, Chief Dan George middle and King Traditional elementary all have more than 130 out-of-catchment students who take the bus. Abbotsford Middle Traditional has the most, with 227 out-of-catchment riders.
Several elementary schools also have a majority of bus-riding students living closer than the four-kilometre walk limit. They include Mount Lehman, where 64 of 73 riders live within the limit, and Aberdeen elementary, where 55 of 63 students live within four kilometres. W.A. Fraser middle, Abbotsford middle, and Clayburn middle each have more than 40 bus-riding students within the limit.