The New Brunswick government is paying too much money on busing the students to school, says a new report by the Atlantic Institute of Market Studies.
The report finds student transportation costs in New Brunswick almost doubled between 1987 and 2014, despite plunging enrolment.
Paul Bennett, a professor at St. Mary's University in Halifax, said there has been a pattern developing in New Brunswick to close schools and then bus students to new regional schools.
"Our report blows the whistle on the process and says it's time to take stock," he said.
"How much of our education dollar is going into the support of students outside the classroom in the form of what we call education on wheels?"
Busing costs climbed to $58.7 million in 2014 from $31.3 million in 1987.
School enrolment has plummeted to 102,579 in 2011-12 from 120,600 in 2002-03. This year, it will cost New Brunswick about $64.8 million to bus about 90,000 students.
'Example of decisions ... that run counter to common sense'
Bennett points to the new location of Moncton High, about nine kilometres from its current location, as an example.
"The decision to build the new Moncton High School in Royal Oaks is a perfect example of decisions that are being made that run counter to common sense and add to the cost of student transportation," he said.
'The decision to build the new Moncton High School in Royal Oaks is a perfect example of decisions that are being made that run counter to common sense and add to the cost of student transportation.' - Paul Bennett, author AIMS report on school transportation
The report states the number of buses in New Brunswick increased to 1,237 in 2014 from 1,156 in 2009, despite the fact the number of students being bused declined to 74,055 from 85,000 during that time.
It also notes the provincial government operates more than 90 per cent of the bus fleet and has little or no involvement with municipal transit services.
New Brunswick also operates parallel bus systems in the anglophone and francophone school systems, which is also called into question.
"Few politicians or school officials have dared to even ask if the sharing of bus services, on a larger scale, might result in significant savings to provincial taxpayers," states the report.
Putting anglophone and francophone students on the same bus is one suggestion of Bennett's. But cabinet minister Victor Boudreau, who is the responsible for government's strategic program review, rejects that idea.
"We’ve been saying as a part of strategic program that everything is on the table with the exception of linguistic rights, which have been guaranteed by the Charter and the constitution," said Boudreau.
"And I actually think that particular example would fall under that.
"But otherwise I’m sure there are efficiencies that can be found within the busing system in the province of New Brunswick."
Other recommendations in the AIMS report include:
- Contract out transportation services to achieve lower costs per student.
- Use city-run transit systems by providing student bus passes for middle school and high school students.
- Implement double bus runs and staggered school times where possible.
- Formally request an audit of student transportation by the auditor general.