The buses that go to Devereaux Elementary School may be the traditional yellow, but the only color one Peace Region parent can see is red.
Faced with the fear of being charged more than $500 a year to send her five-year-old son Triton to school by bus, Naomi Skopnik took to the streets in another way. She’s speaking out well in advance of a tough decision by School District 59 (SD 59), which must cut $250,000 from its transportation budget.
“I might have to quit my job so I can take my kids to school,” said Skopnik. “I want people to know that (these cuts) are going to happen and we should fight against it.”
Skopnik is one of a number of parents in the Devereaux Elementary School parent action committee who are concerned how these cuts will affect their families.
With the possibility that parents could be charged as much as $577 per child, people are considering drastic alternatives – such as quitting their jobs, moving out of the area or home schooling their children.
Last May, the provincial government announced it would change the formula for how it would allocate transportation funds to certain school districts. This meant increases for some school districts, but for districts like SD 59 this meant severe cuts.
"The reality is we've got to find 25 per cent, which is a lot to take out of the bussing budget," said Gerry Slykhuis, secretary-treasurer of SD 59. "We're still just looking at ideas."
When these changes were made, both MLA Blair Lekstrom and the school board objected to these cuts. Now, SD 59 officials say they have hired a consultant to determine how to ensure the reduced budget has the least damaging effect on the district.
Slykhuis said that the finished report on what cuts should be made is expected by the end of March. He said that the board would make a decision at May "at the very latest."
One possibility is that the school district could ask parents to pay fees to make up for the shortfall. "Outside of the private schools, none of our students pay for our ride," he said. "It would be starting to charge, period.”
If the board decides to make up the entire deficit through fees, this could cost families $577.
The board has not yet decided on this route. But even the possibility has frightened parents like Skopnik, and others like her who are members of the Devereaux Parent Advisory Council.
“I already pay my taxes, I already pay lots for the bus,” she said. “I don’t want to pay hundreds of dollars more.”
For Skopnik, this service is essential to her family’s schedule, as she is not always available in the mornings.
“I’m a nurse and my shift starts before the kids even get on the bus sometimes,” she added.
Her son Triton also appreciated the service: “It’s fun (riding the bus), but it takes a long time sometimes.”
Depending on what cuts are made, Skopnik said that her family would have to reconsider their school plans, and may even relocate to another area.
“If they do this, I would consider moving, because why would I stay here and have to pay taxes and not have any services like that?” she asked. “If you’ve got to be at work and there’s no buses… I just don’t know how they’re going to do it.”
Another parent, Celine Giesbrecht, was also worried about the effects these bus cuts could have.
Three of her children attend Devereaux, while another attends Central Middle School in Dawson Creek. Because her children live in a rural part of SD 59's boundaries near Arras, driving to school would prove difficult.
"If there was a choice between paying for bussing or driving my children to school, I would probably choose the homeschooling alternative," she said.
The options presented to them by the school so far don't appeal to her, Giesbrecht added. Instead, she would like to see other possible solutions.
"I'm right on the highway, and I see six or seven buses go by me every day," she said. "I'm thinking, Would the district be able to merge these buses instead of having four buses that are a third full?"
She also thinks that parents should be given advance warning before any cuts or changes are made.
"I don't want to leave it so long we're in a situation that we're forced to either pay for bussing or send our kids to school in town," she said. "I would like to know what's going to happen before it happens so I'm prepared."
Giesbrecht would also like the chance for parents to appeal any decisions that SD 59 makes if they don't find it beneficial.
"There are other solutions besides charging their parents, seeing how our tax dollars pay for a lot of this."
SD 59 is still looking for comments or suggestions about how to fix the bussing situation. Anyone who wishes to do so can contact Slykhuis at email@example.com.