Sooke School District mulling new school bus fee to cover rising costs

Click to play video: 'Sooke District may raise school bus fees'
Sooke District may raise school bus fees
Families in the Sooke School District may pay more to send their kids on the bus. The board is juggling a tight budget, and that's making for some tough decisions. As Kylie Stanton reports, parents say the timing of a possible fee increase is not ideal – Mar 7, 2024

Officials with the Sooke School District on Vancouver Island are thinking about charging families for school buses.

Global News acquired a memo, which was sent to parents and guardians, that says a transportation fee is being considered for the 2024-25 school year.

“With inflation and increased student enrolment in our region, transportation costs are climbing at an unsustainable rate,” staff said in the memo.

“The Board of Education is faced with the incredibly difficult task of either reallocating more funds from the classroom to sustain transportation services or implementing a transportation fee model to safeguard classroom funding.”

As of this school year, the school district allocated $3.94 million in operating funding for transportation.

According to the BC School Act, school districts in B.C. are not required to provide school bus services.

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“It is the responsibility of each family to determine the best transportation option to and from school to meet their needs,” district staff said.

“Several school districts across the province offer a fee-based approach for transportation services.”

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The school district said funding for the classroom will be prioritized over the complementary transportation services. The district currently allocates $3.94 million in funding for transportation — money it says could be allocated to other needs inside schools.

The district’s board of education is discussing the potential transportation fee, which has not been passed. The school district said it will notify parents and guardians “as soon as possible” if it does.

The exact cost for the considered school bus fee was not given in the memo.

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The Sooke Teachers’ Association declined an interview and gave Global News a short statement.

“Teachers are deeply concerned about the terrible choices school boards have to make when trying balance chronically underfunded budgets,” Rita Zeni, Sooke Teachers’ Association’s president, said.

Global News also reached out to the BC Teachers’ Federation, whose president said transportation fees should not be paid by families.

“A strong and stable public education system is one where all families have access to the same supports and services without fees. Teachers believe that providing bus transportation for both curricular and voluntary activities is the responsibility of the local school board and should—through the finance formula—also be the responsibility of the Ministry of Education and Child Care,” Clint Johnston, BC Teachers’ Federation’s president, said.

“When school bus fees are collected to make up for funding gaps elsewhere, it’s a sign of an underfunded public education system.”

When Global News reached out to the Sooke School Board, it said no one was available for comment.

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