When students in the Vernon School District head back to class this year, some families will be paying hundreds of dollars to get their kids to school.
In a move that’s upset parents, the school district is introducing a new $300 a year per student charge for bus transportation for courtesy riders this fall.
In a statement on its website, SD 22 says the new fee was introduced to balance the district’s budget.
“The school district does not receive funding for courtesy riders, which results in an additional cost to the district to bus ineligible students. These are funds that could potentially be directed back into the classroom,” said the district’s statement.
However, many parents aren’t happy about having to pay hundreds of dollars a year to get their kids to school.
More than 700 people have signed an online petition calling on the school district to “spread the cost fairly” among families rather than charge just courtesy riders a higher amount.
SD 22 defines courtesy riders as students who live closer than 2.4 km to their school or who live outside the catchment area for the school they are attending.
The school district says that includes students “registered in a program of choice” like Montessori or French Immersion.
Jordan Lawrence, who has two kids attending school in the district, started the petition.
“I think that it is really unreasonable and unfair . . . they are targeting the families of these courtesy riders instead of making all parents or all families of busing kids pay a smaller fee,” Lawrence said. “I think $300 per child is a lot.”
Lawrence points out there are many reasons why a student might live outside the catchment area for the school they attend, including situations where the student’s parents are separated and one parent lives outside the school’s catchment area.
“There is also the rule that if your child lives closer than 2.4 km to their catchment school, they also are considered a courtesy rider. I live closer than 2.4 km but I am not sending my six-year-old to walk two km to school,” Lawrence said.
The school district says it’s technically not required to provide transportation and it is ultimately up to parents, not the school district, to get kids to school or the bus stop.
The district said there is a financial assistance application process for those in “extreme financial need” to have their $300 fee discounted or waived.
“We really want to reiterate that if there are families struggling with this fee, we do encourage them to visit our website…and to apply for financial aid,” the district’s communications coordinator Maritza Reilly said.
The district said two to three per cent of families of registered courtesy riders have applied for financial aid.
The school district said last year there were around 1,600 courtesy riders, and, so far this school year, that number has dropped to around 700 registered courtesy riders, suggesting some families have changed their school transportation plans because of the new fee.
If each of the 700 courtesy riders in the district paid the $300 fee, that’s $210,000 in additional revenue for the school district.
Although, actual revenue to the school district would likely be lower as some students only ride one direction and others will likely be eligible for financial aid.