Edmonton Catholic Schools followed in the footsteps of Edmonton Public Schools on Tuesday as trustees voted to charge more fees for student transportation to offset the loss of a grant in October’s provincial budget.
“This is regrettable,” said Supt. Joan Carr.
As a result of the vote, parents of some students who had not previously been forced to pay transportation fees will have to begin doing so on Feb. 1.
Parents of elementary school students who attend a designated school that they live 2.4 kilometres or further away from will now need to pay $335 a year for yellow bus or ETS service. That number goes up to $565 for junior high and high school students who live that distance from their designated school.
For students who attend dual-track schools, “who live within the attendance area of their designated school for regular programming but who are enrolled in a language program that is being offered at the same school,” and if the student lives 2.4 km or further away from the dual-track school, they will also be required to pay the new fees.
The ECSD will also introduce an annual $335 fee for students who attend kindergarten and need transportation.
“There is nothing more we can do,” said school trustee Debbie Enegel. “We can’t start taking money from the classroom — those dollars that are already stretched — and put them into transportation.
“Every option in my opinion, has been thoroughly gone through by our administration.”
The vote was based on a report recommending to the school board that the fees be introduced after the School Fee Reduction grant for transportation was cut in the Alberta government’s October budget. The grant was introduced by the previous NDP government in 2017 after it passed legislation that ended school boards’ ability to charge transportation fees “for eligible students who resided 2.4 km or more from their designated school.”
The report said the ECSD lost $2.7 million when the grant was cut this fall and noted the board “has actively pursued operational efficiencies through tiered and shared
bussing, which required an adjustment in some schools’ hours of operation; as well as collaborating with Edmonton Public Schools on shared bussing arrangements.”
“However, additional efficiencies are not possible without negatively impacting schools and families,” the report said.
The ECSD had already projected a $1.9-million transportation but the loss of the grant saw that number balloon to $4.6 million.
The EPSB approved increases in school bus fees last week, citing the same reasons as the ECSD.
On Tuesday, the ECSD also said the provincial budget has left it with a $12.5-million shortfall, which it expects to address — in the short-term at least — through the use of reserve funds.
The board also decided it will need to make cuts to discretionary spending but will not be making any cuts to teachers or classrooms.
At Tuesday’s meeting, trustees also began exploring options for potentially closing St. Basil Catholic School, which the board said is underused.
The school is currently at 44 per cent capacity. The board said the process would involve consultation with stakeholders and that there is no set timeline for the school’s closure.
–With files from Global News’ Fletcher Kent