Some 500 students attending public schools outside their assigned catchment area will have to pay to ride the school bus beginning next September.
This after a motion to keep busses free for all students was narrowly defeated by a 5-4 vote at a June 19 board meeting of the Kootenay Lake School District.
Board vice chair Lenora Trenaman, trustee for Crawford Bay, introduced the motion to remove the fee, citing her longstanding belief that public education should be free.
“It’s not fair for the families who won’t be able to send a student to their school of choice because they can’t afford the fee,” Trenaman said.
The new fees were introduced in the 2012/2013 budget, approved by the board of trustees in May. Families will be charged $20 per month ($200 for the school year) per student or $50 per month ($500 for the school year) for three students or more going to the same school. There will be a 10 per cent discount for paying the full amount in September.
The fee will only apply if the students travelling to a different school by choice, despite there being a school closer to them. Students attending a school for French Immersion will be exempt.
Trustee Trenaman said she personally chose to send her daughter to Hume elementary school, despite Redfish elementary being their home school.
“If I had to pay $200 to get her to that school, I would have starved to make sure it happened,” Trenaman said. “Parents shouldn’t be put in that position.”
While there is hardship money available for families who cannot afford fees, Trenaman said many families have too much pride to apply for it.
But board chair Mel Joy, trustee for Creston, said the fee will encourage parents to keep their children at the school they’re assigned to.
“It can be hard on rural school to have students bussing to a different school,” Joy said. “I think the value of community schools is more important than avoiding all fees on principal.”
Creston trustee Rebecca Huscroft also wanted the fees to stay. She said, given how tight the district budget is, they shouldn’t be paying to put more students on the bus.
“If parents choose to send their child to a different school, they should pay for it, not us,” Huscroft said. “At some point we have to draw a line.”
Trenaman said in many cases the busses are running anyways. But director of operations Larry Brown said he would need fewer busses if they weren’t serving out of catchment students.
Trustees Joy, Huscroft, Bob Wright (Nelson), Dawn Lang (Kaslo) and Sheri Huser (Salmo) were in the majority, voting to keep the fees.
The school district is hosting a three public meeting across the district to discuss the new school bus fee. The Nelson meeting is June 27, 7 to 8 p.m., at L.V. Rogers secondary school. There will also be meetings in South Slocan and Creston.