The Kootenay Lake school board decided Tuesday to revisit out-of-catchment bussing following a “violation of process” brought to their attention by the district parent advisory council.
Trustees had a lengthy, heated debate about two proposed resolutions that would see bussing fees reinstated for those traveling to schools outside of their area.
“I think we’re stepping out of line as a board,” said trustee Bob Wright. “We’re not supporting kids to go to their local school. We’re supporting kids going anywhere they want and we’re saying we’ll bus them there.
“What we’re saying is that some of our schools don’t measure up. But I believe in local schools and I believe in local community.”
Wright expressed his fear that if out-of-catchment bussing becomes more popular it could effectively “cripple” some local schools. Trustee Rebecca Huscroft echoed the sentiment.
“All the schools in our district come up to the same standard,” she said.
The conversation was spurred by district parent advisory council chair Sheri Walsh, who said stakeholders were denied the chance to have input into the issue as previously planned.
Trustees voted to refer the issue to the budget stakeholder engagement committee in October.
“Let’s give this at least another year’s chance,” trustee Dawn Lang said, on keeping the fees in place. “Our feet are being held to the fire to deal with our financial problems.”
And trustee Heather Suttie said their attempts to address the issue have been too small scale.
“We have to come up with bigger solutions.”
Since 2009, the board has flip-flopped on two issues: whether they should allow out-of-catchment bussing at all, and whether they should recoup their expenses through fees. According to legislation, students are allowed to attend a school of their choice, but as Huscroft put it, “we’re not legislated to pay for it.”
Superintendent Jeff Jones said he’s frustrated by the indecision.
“There has been a continual debate over the last five or six years,” he said, noting that as things stand now nobody will be charged for out-of-catchment bussing until after the budget stakeholders meeting.
“Should the board decide to continue to implement the out-of-catchment bussing fees then parents will be invoiced accordingly,” Jones said.
According to operations manager Larry Brown, there were 2,168 registered riders in the district as of June 30, with 1,826 in their own catchment areas and 342 out. That means approximately 84 per cent of their riders are currently attending schools in their own area, while 16 percent aren’t.