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Calgary Board of Education hikes yellow bus fees for 2020-21 school year

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Parents across Calgary are dealing with sticker shock as the Calgary Board of Education announced fee increases for busing, and changes to busing for kindergarten kids. Adam Toy reports.

The Calgary Board of Education is making dramatic changes to its yellow bus service for the 2020-21 school year — changes that are leaving some parents in shock.

“Last year, we were charged $365 for busing per student,” Calgary parent Rick Gold told Global News. “This year, they’ve increased it to $465 for the public school. And now, because we’re in an alternative program, they have told us they want us to pay $800 a kid.”

READ MORE: CBE announces $32M funding shortfall in wake of 2019 Alberta budget

Gold has two sons attending the Traditional Learning Centre, a CBE alternative program.

Yellow bus fee changes

The board announced the yellow school bus fee rates for the coming year Friday.

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For students living further than 2.4 kilometres away from their school, in specialized programs and who use general transportation, the cost will be $465 for the year.

For students living 1.6 to 2.4 kilometres from their school or attending alternative programs, like French immersion or arts- or science-focused programs, the cost will be $800 for the year.

“The increase of $100 for public students is already quite a bit,” Gold said. “That we’re having to pay $800 is unacceptable, is crazy.

“Parents that I know with three kids — having to pay $800 for three kids now — they’re worried about where they’re going to get the money in this economy to pay those fees.”

The CBE said the dramatic hikes are an effort to get their budget to fit funding from the provincial government.

“Following direction by the CBE Board of Trustees and responding to 10,000 survey responses, transportation services and fees for the 2020-21 school year have been set to allow the CBE to balance the transportation budget using only provincial funding and user fees,” the board said.

“Any changes to transportation fees were decisions made solely by the Calgary Board of Education,” Colin Aitchison, press secretary for Education Minister Adriana LaGrange, said in a statement.

“For the 2020-21 school year, the CBE is receiving an increase of approximately $20 million in government funding, including $1.7 million in additional funding for transportation.”

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Education advocates Support Our Students say the sizeable transportation fees are the result of a “perfect storm” precipitated by both the school board and provincial government.

“We knew this was coming for a few years now,” Barbara Silva told Global News. “We’ve been talking about how the transportation system within the city is completely unsustainable, and that’s directly related to the plethora of choices that the CBE offers.

“But it’s also in conjunction with the fact that the province has not kept up with the transportation funding from their end. It’s been probably 13 or 14 years with no significant increases to transportation funding to a city that has grown by leaps and bounds.

“So it’s sort of a perfect storm.”

More students to use public transit

More students in Grades 6 and up attending Calgary Board of Education schools will be using Calgary Transit in the 2020-21 year and bell times at several schools will be adjusted, according to information released on Friday.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Alberta fast-tracks new school builds, creates jobs amid economic turmoil

In a news release, the CBE said bell times will be changed at about 20 schools to accommodate students taking public transit.

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Last year, in response to the provincial budget, the board eliminated the rebate program for students buying monthly Calgary Transit passes.

Changes to kindergarten busing

Parents were also notified Friday of a major change to transportation for kindergarten students: the cancellation of midday rides.

For kindergarteners, busing will only be available for one-way service. For morning kindergarten, students will be bused to their schools. For afternoon kindergarten, children will be bused home.

The board said some schools will be consulting with parents and guardians about possibly offering full-day kindergarten on alternating days, which would mean the children would receive busing on the two days they attend school.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Calgary Board of Education cancels 2020 graduations, celebrations

The cost for either half-day or alternating kindergarten would be $400.

“Students in specialized programs who require specialized transportation will not pay a fee. Families with students in specialized programs will receive more information about adjustments to their transportation services for 2020-21 later this month,” the board said.

READ MORE: COVID-19: Alberta schools to stay closed for rest of academic year; province eyeing early summer start

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Registration for 2020-21 busing opens May 19 and families are asked to ensure they have signed up by June so the board can plan routes.

“These plans have been made for the beginning of the 2020-21 school year, however, the reopening of schools is based on recommendations of the government and re-entry plans have not been finalized,” the board said.

People can find transportation survey responses online.