Vernon School District plans to increase annual bus fee from $25 to $200, angering parents
Online petition against fee hike is gaining support in North Okanagan
Hundreds of parents in Vernon, B.C., are not happy after the local school district said it plans to increase annual bus fees from $25 to $200 for the next academic year.
At a meeting on Feb. 17, School District 22 gave approval in principal to a motion authorizing the increase for students attending schools in its catchment area. It now requires final approval at the school board's March 10 meeting to pass.
The school district's catchment includes Vernon and neighbouring municipalities in the North Okanagan, such as Coldstream, Lavington, Cherryville and Lumby.
Students studying programs of choice — such as Montessori and French immersion — would have to pay $300 for the entire school year.
Large increase sparks petition
The jump in school transportation costs surprised Cherryville resident Krystal Arcand, who organized an online petition against the hike, which she argues would be financially difficult for many families who mostly live in rural areas.
Arcand has a daughter going to secondary school in Lumby — about 30 kilometres west of her hometown — and another child attending kindergarten in September. She would have to pay $400 for 2021/2022 if the increase is approved.
"We have no access to public transportation [in Cherryville], so we really have no other choices besides the school bus," Arcand said Wednesday on Daybreak South. "It leaves us with being forced into a corner to have to pay these fees."
For larger families, the proposal would charge the third child half of the standard fee, and each additional child $25.
But Arcand says she didn't pay any school bus fee for her daughter for six years, until 2018 when the Vernon school district imposed a $25 fee to offset some cost of the transportation service.
No consultation from school district, parents say
Arcand says many parents have not been consulted on the proposed fare increase and may pull their children from school in protest.
"Our local school here is already under capacity and over the last couple of years has threatened to possibly be shut down because of low attendance," she said. "If we do have a bunch of parents pull[ing] their kids out of the school, we also risk losing our high school."
Other school districts across the province have been charging busing service rates higher than what Vernon proposes. Central Okanagan, for instance, levies $300 annually for the first and second child, and $150 for the third and fourth child. Langley in the Lower Mainland levies $400 per rider and a maximum of $600 per family.
School District 22 board chair Gen Acton says parents have been consulted over the past two years about the fee increase, which she says has been proposed because the district can't afford to keep rates lower.
Acton says parents will get the help they need.
"The board is looking to offer financial aid for those families who are not in a position to be able to meet that demand," she said.
But Arcand isn't impressed.
"The subsidy is really just a Band-Aid," she said. "Regardless of them offering subsidies, there has to be an account why it [the school bus fee] would go up so drastically."
Tap the link below to hear Krystal Arcand's interview on Daybreak South:
Tap the link below to hear Gen Acton's interview on Daybreak South:
With files from Daybreak South and Zameer Karim