Creston Valley parents to pay for out-of-catchment busing
Parents of children who attend schools out of their catchment area are going to have to start paying for busing, School District No. 8 (Kootenay Lake) trustees have decided.
A motion by trustee Lenora Trenaman, who represents Crawford Bay, East Shore and West Shore, to direct senior staff not to implement busing fees of $20 per month per child was defeated at yesterday's board meeting in Nelson. The board of education meeting included more than 24 parents, teachers and principals, who attended at the Creston Education Centre by videoconference.
Trenaman introduced her motion by apologizing to the board, parents and staff, explaining that through the budget discussion process, she had not caught the new plan to implement busing charges.
“How did I not pick up on this?” she asked. “I can’t give you a good answer about how I missed it. But I did.
“It took a heck of a lot courage for me to bring this forward at this late point, but I’ve always spoken against fees — I believe public education should be free for everyone.”
Before the motion was introduced, parents in Creston and Nelson spoke of their opposition to busing fees, in part because there is no clarity about how they will be assessed.
Students attend schools out of their catchment areas for a number of reasons, comments from parents and trustees revealed: by the choice of parents, because there wasn’t room in the catchment school for a student, because there wasn’t space for all of the of students in a family at one school when it moved into a catchment area and because the desire to take specific educational programs might require a student to attend a different school.
“It doesn’t seem fair to suddenly start charging for students out of the catchment area when the system has been the same for years,” Canyon-Lister Elementary School parent Lisa Tessman said. “What if a catchment school was full when parents came here and their children are now established in another school? Is their choice to pay for busing or move their children to a different school?”
Yesterday, Tessman said that rumblings about possible transportation fees began to surface in May, but it wasn’t until recent weeks when it became clear of the district’s intent.
“It seems like there is more going on than [parents] know,” she said. “Maybe this is another way to help close smaller schools.”
She also said that she had spoke to a parent who is now considering home-schooling a child rather than moving the student to a different school or facing added costs.
“This decision could help push more kids out of our schools,” Tessman, whose own child attends school in her catchment area. “Another problem is that catchment areas haven’t always been clear. I think there are parents in Kitchener who are sending their kids to one school that they think is the catchment school, but in fact it is not — this whole thing doesn’t seem to have been very well thought out.
“Also, there are parents who will home-school because they only feel comfortable with their kids being in Canyon-Lister and not with putting them into a large school like [Adam Robertson Elementary School].”
Another parent, Lisa Cote, pointed out that parents had received no written notification about the district’s plan to begin charging for transportation of students who attend schools out of their own neighbourhood.
Canyon-Lister Parent Advisory Council chair Trudy Robinson reported that in a discussion with district operations director Larry Brown, he denied that children had been forced to attend school out of their residential area because of a lack of space.
“He said that there is always room at a school, that portables can be used if necessary,” she said.
In discussion of Trenaman’s motion, South Rural trustee Annette Hambler-Pruden expressed her opposition to busing fees.
“I am really upset at the possibility of implementing these fees,” she said. “We have parents who will do without to get their kids into the school they want them in — kids could be coming to school hungry because we have a lot of families who have very low incomes. … We already have kindergarten kids in West Creston who are catching a school bus when they should still be sleeping.”
“This could push parents into home-schooling. Then, when that doesn’t work, the children come back into the public school system and we all have to pay to help them catch up. And there can be room in a school for one child but not the sibling — it isn’t fair to split up families.”
Hambler’s South Rural counterpart, Rebecca Huscroft, spoke against Trenaman’s motion.
“I, too, am a strong advocate of free public education in our community schools,” she said, “but if you choose to send your children out of your beautiful communities, why should costs be borne by everyone else? I believe in choice, but at some time you have to draw the line.”
Town of Creston trustee and board chair Mel Joy sided with the administration’s recommendation.
“I put a huge value on the catchment schools,” she said. “I have a difficult time with fees, but when I know that there is a good school in each community, I think we are making the right decision. Charging fees for out-of-catchment students for me comes second to the strength of our community schools.”
Despite Trenaman’s caution that “this is a slippery slope”, the board narrowly defeated her motion.
Supt. Jeff Jones said meetings should now be scheduled with parents and staff to discuss how the fees will be implemented.
“We will do our very best to work with communities,” he said.
“These consultations should have been made before this was ever implemented,” Joy said.