Education Minister David Eggen says it's "very disturbing" to see internal documents that suggest the Calgary Board of Education was already in the process of moving toward controversial "congregated bus stops" long before discussing details with parents.
"I'm certainly concerned about transportation in Calgary and also how you conduct a proper process to determine any program," Eggen said Thursday, adding that he plans to investigate the matter further.
"If you have a predetermined outcome before you are consulting, then of course that colours and diminishes the consultation process."
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Eggen's comments came in response to documents made public by the Calgary Association of Parents and School Councils (CAPSC), which obtained the materials under a freedom-of-information (FOIP) request.
The documents relate to a controversial plan to move toward so-called congregated bus stops, a policy that would force many students to walk much longer distances to catch a school bus.
A private report to trustees reveals that as early as March 2014, the CBE was considering a three-year strategy to phase in longer "walk zones" of up to 2.4 kilometres.
Information sharing, or lack thereof
The CBE did publicly float the idea of congregated bus stops in April 2014, but CAPSC vice-president Greg Oberti said the board made no mention of the topic in a February 2015 transportation survey of parents.
"We're disappointed that there was information 18 months ago about the changes," Oberti said.
"Parents want to fully participate and be part of solutions, but need real information to do so."
Oberti applauded Eggen's call for greater transparency at the CBE, but said "our ultimate objective here is to fix the current situation."
"We didn't want to have to do what we did, which was doing the FOIP, but ultimately we need the facts," Oberti said.
"We need to know what's going on behind the scenes. We need to understand the rationale so we can at least respond to the parents that are coming to us."
In a statement Thursday afternoon, the CBE said it's trying to strike a balance between a provincial funding gap and parent expectations.
"We had a $8.149 million gap in the funding we received from Alberta Education and the cost of providing transportation. The cost of adding extra buses and shortening the travel distance to a yellow school bus stop for elementary and middle school students this fall added to our costs," the board said.
"At the same time we have heard clearly that parents don't want to pay more in transportation fees and the government has indicated that it wants fees reduced."
Ministry to investigate
Eggen said the way the CBE went about the changes to congregated bus stops appears "backwards" and said the board needs to consult parents more fully in the future.
"We always need to be straight with the public with all actions that we do as public institutions," the minister said.
"I will be investigating further, as will my ministry, and we hope that we ultimately get the outcome of a good quality transportation system for students here in the city of Calgary."