The Gleaner

Parents are angry over changes to school transportation policy

Parents who rely on school transportation and daycare services at schools within the New Frontier School Board (NFSB) are questioning the introduction of a board-wide policy that restricts access to busing for children attending daycare.

Families were notified by email in early July that changes were being made to the NFSB transportation system and that as of August 31, students who are registered in morning or afternoon daycare for three to five days per week will no longer have access to bus transport.

Parents were quick to react, pointing out the notice was sent after the registration period for daycare services was closed and the school year had ended. As one parent of children attending Heritage Elementary pointed out, parents make decisions about their children’s after-school care based on numerous circumstances, including financial, mental health, and family considerations. She suggests the timing and the nature of the notice has placed unnecessary stress on families over the summer.

In a letter to the school board, she calls the situation unacceptable while pointing out the need for daycare does not negate the need for busing. Another parent suggests the policy change discriminates against working parents. Both are hoping it can be reversed.

Tight budget and empty seats

NFSB director general Michael Helm says he understands the policy change has angered some parents and acknowledges some families will be negatively impacted, especially those who rely on daycare for three of the five school days per week.

“Right now, we are growing, but we have a fixed budget for our transportation,” says Helm, noting that while some buses are crowded, others are pulling away from schools with empty seats. “We have names to seats, and they are not all being used,” he says, suggesting this is because parents are transporting their children to the school themselves, and because of daycare services.

“We are looking to recoup these empty seats so we can organize our transport to meet the needs throughout our system,” he explains, noting that as school populations continue to grow, it is important for the board to “maximize their routes and the number of students on buses.” He says the goal over the next two weeks is to determine the number of students who are not relying on bus services, to see what can be done to ensure seats are filled.

Helm says the transportation budget for the board is over $5 million, which is subsidized by the government based on bus routes and efficiency. “We know we have seats. They may just not be in the right areas,” he admits, suggesting the situation is especially challenging due to the rural context. Unfortunately, it is not possible to simply request an additional bus to service those schools that are growing at a faster rate. Helm cautions that budgetwise, the board is going to have to start making hard decisions, particularly for the 2024-25 school year. In the meantime, he says the NFSB is working with families impacted by the transport policy on an individual basis as parents come forward.

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