An Airdrie resident brought up some valuable points when he presented to the Rocky View School (RVS) Board on March 1.
Jason Spratt is concerned the board will make a hasty decision when it comes to deciding how to manage the one million dollar shortfall that is projected in the transportation budget this fall. Spratt has spent the last month looking at efficiencies and questioning whether there are other options that could be put on the table.
One idea Spratt had in regards to cost savings was whether bus stops could be spread out more. "The stops in between are 400m apart if you are only picking up two or three kids at a stop, why not move it so you will have more kids at less stops rather than more stops? Then you're not pulling over and stopping and starting all the way to school."
Spratt also supports the option to move all bus stops further away to encourage more kids walking or getting a ride. Busing students who live 1.5 km from school, Spratt says if the distance was further away, many students would choose to walk. "My house is approximately 1 km along a driven route to my kid's school, they have a friend that lives down from us that live about 1.5/1.6km so they get bused to school. They have to walk about 400/500m to get to the bus stop approximately 2km away. It takes my kids on average 20 minutes to walk to school. Now if it is recommended they be (at the stop) there 5 minutes before the bus gets there, it takes them 5 minutes to walk that 500m (to the stop), now there at 10 minutes before the bus picks them up. If the bus is going to take another 10 to 15 minutes depending on driving conditions and additional stops, we're at 20 minutes to a half hour to be bused 1.5 km; it doesn't make sense if kids can get to school in less time than it takes to take the bus."
Another option Spratt shares is based on Section 52 of the School Act which could possibly eliminate rural busing but remunerate parents. 'Transport by parent 52(1) A board may, instead of providing transportation under section 51, enter into an agreement with the parent of the student under which the parent will (a) convey the student to and from school or the bus route, and (b) receive, in accordance with the rules of the board, payment for providing that service'. Spratt feels if the option was on the table it may provide a more cost-effective option than busing rural students. "It's an option that I didn't see in any of their literature but they did talk about increasing the length of the rural routes. So if they were looking at making those times longer, would they consider looking at paying parents to drive their kids to school? I think it is something the school board should have looked into and at least proposed or made an option."
A third option brought up was whether utilizing municipal busing for high school students could be explored. While Cochrane is just getting started on researching what municipal busing looks like, AirdrieTransit is already in place.
Through a series of questions, Spratt was disappointed to learn that in late 2015, RVS though identified and invited as a stakeholder, did not attend nor actively partake in the Transit Master Plan exercise. RVS administration nor the trustees have reached out to Airdrie Transit about the possibility of some students using city transit during the school year which Spratt expresses concern over. "Rocky View Transit seems to be looking at it one way, their way and not outside the box to see if there is something different we could do."
If students were able to ride the municipal transit, it would allow flexibility to attend options at other schools as well as cost savings. An Airdrie Transit monthly bus pass costs $47.50 which equates to $475.00 over the ten month school year while Spratt's findings show the government funds $549. If Airdrie Transit was able to deliver service to high school students it would save $74 per student not to mention students could use the pass outside of school hours. While Spratt was not sure whether or not the difference of funds could be used to offset Rocky View Schools overall deficit or whether the government would just cut the government funds back, he was very blunt in his response. "That is not my responsibility that is Rocky View Schools responsibility to find that out."
Spratt, worries that RVS will just create a band-aid solution rather than creating a long-term sustainable plan. "What is more distressing is that they knew this was coming for ten years, they saw it but did nothing. They have a four-year plan when it comes to education but they don't have a four-year plan for transportation even though they knew this problem was coming. They are thinking short term, in the now. For transportation, we need to be thinking further out, where can we save and where can we make money, so we have a little bit of room."
While there are no more public consultations planned, Spratt is hopeful families will push back and voice their concerns. "I don't think April is enough time to make a transportation decision that is going affect many students."
An 8-page communique was released today (March 12) outlying results from the first survey, the bundles being presented and a q&a, which you can find HERE. Parents are encouraged to provide feedback via a new online survey until March 30 https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/3KXXTMZ
The Board will deliberate its decision at its April 12 public Board Meeting.
RVS states since 2008 transportation costs have risen by 17.83 percent, while grant revenues rose by only 1.27 percent over the same time period.