More than a month into the school year, Kootenay Lake School District is still working to address parents’ concerns around longer bus rides and wait times for children going to and from schools.
The school district reduced the number of bus routes it offers, from 36 to 33, this September. It was the first time cutting routes in several years, and at the same time new out-of-catchment busing fees were introduced.
“It was a bit of shock to parents, now having to pay to get their kid on the bus and meanwhile receiving worse bus service,” explained district parents advisory council secretary Shari Walsh. “I think, when you start to pay for something, you expect it to get better.”
Walsh cited examples of children who live five kilometres from their school of choice and yet spend an hour on the bus. She said some students were dropped off at school a full hour before classes started and others had to wait an hour after dismissal to board a bus. Though some of those issues have since been addressed.
School district operations manager Larry Brown said bus routes are designed to get students home within 50 minutes and, ideally, students wouldn’t wait more than 20 minutes before or after classes to get on a bus.
“Ninety-plus per cent of our in-catchment riders should fall within that category,” he said. “The out-of-catchment riders, they often end up taking a longer ride because that’s what they choose to do to attend their school of choice.”
Brown expects to have the the bus routes finalized by the middle of this month. He said resources are being moved around in response to enrolment numbers.
Initially the routes that were cut included two half routes in Nelson and full routes in Slocan and Creston. But after seeing the enrolment numbers, Brown said, he decided to cut one full route in Kaslo instead, and restore half a route in Nelson and half a route in Slocan.
“We expect this will address many concerns the parents’ have expressed to us,” Brown said. “We can’t please everyone, but we’re trying.”
Along with the changes in bus routes, there has also been considerable changeover in bus drivers.
Walsh said her daughter, who attends Mount Sentinel high school, is on a route that’s been driven by at least eight different people so far, and there still isn’t a permanent driver on it.
“It’s a safety issue,” Walsh said, noting that drives aren’t getting to know the kids on their bus and wouldn’t recognize if somebody had boarded the bus who wasn’t supposed to be on it. As well, she said it leads to inconsistent pick-up times and poor behaviour on the bus.
“Having a fill-in driver is like having a substitute teacher,” she said. “The kids know they can get away with acting out when they’re with someone new.”
Brown said part of the turnover in drivers is a result of bumping privileges laid out in the drivers’ collective agreement.
“If you cut a bus run and it impacts an employee, he or she has the right to bump other employees to keep their job and keep working,” he said.
But all drivers should be familiar with the route their on.
“We don’t let any bus drivers out there cold. They always know their routes. I pay them to ride along on a route to get to know the route,” he said.
Walsh recognizes that the school district is doing all they can.
“I know they’re is trying to address our concerns,” she said. “There’s some annoyance about it taking so long. We’re into the second month of school. This should have been dealt with over the summer.”