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Edmonton Public School Board raising school bus fees Feb. 1 in wake of provincial budget

Click to play video: 'Edmonton Public Schools to raise transportation fees' Edmonton Public Schools to raise transportation fees
WATCH ABOVE: Transportation fees will be going up in February for thousands of Edmonton students who take the bus to school. Sarah Komadina explains why. – Dec 10, 2019

Some parents with kids in the Edmonton Public School District will be paying higher school bus fees starting Feb. 1.

The changes include a new yellow bus fee of $260 annually for students in Kindergarten to Grade 6, and of $515 annually for students in grades 7 to 12.

Fees for students riding Edmonton Transit Service buses to their designated schools will also rise from $190 annually to $515 annually.

Trustees said it was a hard decision but they’ve been put in a difficult position. Tuesday afternoon’s vote was unanimous.

READ MORE: Edmonton Public Schools to consider hiking bus fees after UCP budget results in funding shortfall

The United Conservative government’s provincial budget eliminated the School Fee Reduction grant. The Edmonton Public School Board report said the district had $5.3 million less available for student transportation.

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READ MORE: Alberta rural school division pens letter over UCP education cuts

Trustees explained school bus fee hikes were considered partly because the EPSB does not want to make cuts to classrooms mid-school year in order to address the post-budget funding shortfall.

“We have no option but to make these difficult decisions,” Board Chair Trisha Estabrooks said.

“We pay more for transportation services than we collect in user fees and now we have fewer provincial dollars to help cover costs, based on the Oct. 24 provincial budget.

“Our division was subsidizing shortfalls in funding with our surplus funds, but now that’s depleted. To ensure we’re supporting classrooms, we have no choice but to pass this fee onto parents,” she said.

Click to play video: 'Edmonton Catholic Schools upping school bus fees' Edmonton Catholic Schools upping school bus fees
Edmonton Catholic Schools upping school bus fees – Apr 30, 2019

Special needs busing will not be subject to fee increases.

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Schools will be contacting affected families in January.

“While this fee increase will help us bridge a portion of our funding gap this year, we need to think more broadly about how we provide transportation services to Edmontonians, and what we charge for that service,” Estabrooks said.

In January, the division will share a survey with parents about their priorities related to transportation to help guide any changes it makes for the next school year.

Here’s what it means for you

Yellow bus:

  • Students attending their designated school 2.4 kilometres or more away: change from $0/month currently to $33/month for the remainder of this school year.

ETS bus:

  • Students attending their Grade 7-12 school 2.4 kilometres or more away: change from $19/month currently to $60/month for the remainder of the school year.

Kindergarten students:

  • Traditionally, Edmonton Public has not charged transportation fees for Kindergarten students. Starting Feb. 1, 2020, parents who have Kindergarten students using busing will also be required to pay for transportation.
  • Students attending their designated school 2.4 kilometres or more away: change from $0/month currently to $33/month for the remainder of this school year.

Bilingual or immersion students:

  • change from $0/month currently to $33/month for the remainder of this school year.

Alternative program students:

  • change from $0/month currently to $60 for the remainder of the school year.

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“It used to be illegal to change fees mid-year,” NDP education critic Sarah Hoffman said on Friday.

“We had a law and it was in place long before the NDP was even in government. You could only set fees once a year. You set them in the summer, parents knew how much they had to pay.”

READ MORE: Controversial Alberta education bill passes after marathon debate

“In the spring, in that really long debate – Bill 8 – that we filibustered for two days and the government rammed through anyways, one of the changes was that boards could bring in mid-year school fee increases. That didn’t mean they were going to do it, but of course, after the budget came out, and millions of dollars were cut – $5.3 million just from transportation for Edmonton Public.

“They certainly feel like they’re between a rock and a hard place, and I get why they’re doing this, but I feel really awful for these families,” Hoffman said.

In a statement on Tuesday, Colin Aitcheson, a spokesperson for the education ministry said: “We respect the autonomy of school boards in their day-to-day decision-making. As always, trustees will be accountable to parents for any fee they choose to put in place.”

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