Thursday, June 9, 2011

Parents stunned as Calgary school board jacks up bus fees, removes family cap

Parent reaction to a massive hike in fees to send children to public school by bus was swift and heated Wednesday.

Trustees with the Calgary Board of Education decided Tuesday to raise fees by 38 per cent for most charter bus users and remove the family maximum cap.

In some cases, this means doubling and even tripling the amount parents will have to pay in September.

Stephanie Aleksiuk said her fees are jumping from $400 to $900 a year to send her three kids to school, including two in elementary and one who will start junior high.

"When the busing fees come due, it already feels like a pretty big burden, so to pay more than double, in what other sphere would that be acceptable?" said Aleksiuk, who lives in the northwest community of Rocky Ridge, which does not have a public school.

"It's not something we're choosing, there's no school in our neighbourhood. It's a basic right for your kids to go to school, so it does seem a little bit ridiculous to be hiking it that much."

This year, parents paid $200 a child to a family maximum of $400, but trustees removed the maximum cap at their meeting Tuesday.

The fee for students in kindergarten has been increased to $215 per year, the charge for elementary school is up to $295 and the fee will now be $335 per student in junior high. Senior high students pay a subsidized rate on Calgary Transit's monthly youth pass, which goes from $35.75 per month to $39.25.
Rachel Ruggles has four children in the public system and said she'll be on the hook for more than $1,200 in September.

"This is going to cost over three times as much as last year. That is a huge financial impact for us going into the new school year on top of all the other expected fees we have to pay," said Ruggles, who is out of the country and responded by e-mail.

"If our mortgage was to increase suddenly at the rate the CBE has approved the bus fee increase, we could not afford to continue to pay our mortgage."

The board claims about six teaching positions won't have to be cut as a result of the fee increase. If fees stayed the same, the equivalent of nine full-time positions would have been cut to pay for the subsidy.

"The board made the decision on the basis of allowing parents to bear more of the weight of the transportation costs so we could not take away from the instructional core," said CBE chairwoman Pat Cochrane.

"We knew some families would be affected by this, but the flip side of that is I hear from parents who are in the walk limit who say, 'I don't want fewer teachers in my kid's school because you're taking the transportation costs out of the classroom.'

"It's always a balancing act, it's always a question of these competing interests."

By comparison, the Calgary Catholic School District increased bus fees by $20 to $215 a year, with a family maximum of $430.

During Tuesday's public board meeting, the bus fee schedule was broken into several different votes as some trustees recused themselves for possible conflict of interest.

Joy Bowen-Eyre abstained from voting on the bus fees for elementary school students as she has an elementary-aged child. Trustees Sheila Taylor and Carol Bazinet removed themselves from the entire debate and discussion on bus fees as both have children in the system.
Pam King participated because her child is in Grade 12 and won't be affected by fees owing next year. Had she abstained, the board might not have had a quorum to pass some of the fee increases as at least four trustees are required to be present.

Earlier this spring, the CBE received a legal opinion suggesting trustees with children may be in a conflict of interest in voting on fee increases and the board budget.

Both Taylor and Bazinet have sent letters to Education Minister Dave Hancock asking for clarity on the issue of pecuniary conflict of interest.

"I would've loved to have been there last night, believe me, but we received this advice," said Bazinet.
"I believe that trustees should be able to vote on school fees even if they have children in school. I've always voted, every year until this year."

Hancock has recently said he received a copy of the legal opinion and his department is reviewing it.

No comments:

Post a Comment