Calgary

CBE retroactively scraps fee-free busing, Calgary Transit rebate for 2019-20 school year

The Calgary Board of Education has retroactively changed its busing costs for the 2019-20 year, the school board told parents on Tuesday.

Future transportation funding is also up in the air

The Calgary Board of Education is retroactively changing its school bus fees and Calgary Transit rebates for the 2019-20 school year. (CBC)

The Calgary Board of Education has retroactively changed its busing costs for the 2019-20 year, the school board told parents on Tuesday.

All yellow school bus riders will be charged $365, the CBE said in an emailed letter sent to parents, including 6,000 students who were previously eligible for free transportation.

The CBE has also retroactively eliminated its rebates for monthly Calgary Transit passes, which previously offered up to $549 a year for students who attend their designated school and reside more than 2.4 kilometres away.

Students who require special needs transportation won't be charged, the CBE said.

But, not all students who require specialized transportation are eligible for that transportation funding.

"In 2018-19, the CBE provided specialized transportation to approximately 3,000 of the 5,500 students who met the criteria of severe profile," a CBE spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

'I was shocked,' says parent

Michelle Queen, whose daughter is in Grade 9 and takes Calgary Transit to get to school, said she was unimpressed by the news.

"With this, plus all of the additional fees that we've had to pay in the last seven months, it's going to affect how and where we spend our money," she said, adding that her family has been hit by rising school fees, and increases to home and car insurance.

"I was shocked, because we'd been hearing over and over they weren't going to cut [the rebate], that it wasn't going to be affected. And then boom, there it is."

She said she feels lucky her family will now be able to budget for the pass in future, but worries for families who are struggling — especially if the city decides to increase bus pass costs in the coming years.

Changes impacts of budget crunch

CBE superintendent Christopher Usih said during Tuesday's board meeting that the decision to retroactively change busing fees was just one of the impacts of the province slashing the board's budget by $32 million.

It was emotional board meeting, with some trustees being brought to tears. 

Trustees were told 317 teachers would have their layoff notices rescinded and be able to stay on until the end of the school year, thanks to access to $15 million in one-time funds. Central administration will see its service unit cut by about 33 positions.

But the board faces challenges once that money runs out.

"The uncertainty comes with we don't know what the next budget's going to look like. We are anxious to see what the assurance and funding framework will look like and what that will mean for our system," board chair Marilyn Dennis said. 

Dennis said some of the IMF funds were used to mitigate those increases to transportation fees — which could otherwise have been much larger — but said the future of transportation funding is another unknown.

The board is still awaiting a financial audit by the province as well as a governance review. 

With files from Lucie Edwardson

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