School District 68 looking for parent feedback for bus review

The Nanaimo-Ladysmith School District is reviewing its school bus transportation operations and is asking for parent input.

Parents in Ladysmith and Nanaimo have until Oct. 1 to provide their feedback to the school district as it undergoes a busing review.

The Nanaimo-Ladysmith School District (SD68) is in the process of reviewing its school bus transportation operations. The review is being conducted by Management Partnership Services Inc. to determine if there are efficiencies or changes to the current school bus system that the district could consider.

The district currently provides busing service to approximately 1,836 students, out of a total enrolment of about 14,000 students, according to the school district.

“As school district finances have become more constrained and the cost of fuel has increased, the district must ensure that the school bus system is operating as effectively and efficiently as possible,” states a school district information sheet about the review. “The district allocates about $1.2 million in funding a year from the provincial government for student transportation but spends about 40 per cent more than that on the current school bus system.”

Some of the topics that the consultants will review include walk limits, the current configuration of routes, courtesy riders, user-pay systems, staff training, types of buses and fuel usage, how school schedules affect bus routes, and a transportation assistance program.

School board chairman Jamie Brennan says the board is hoping the transportation review will lead to efficiencies and maybe some cost savings — essentially, “more efficient utilization of our transportation services.”

“We’ve experienced approximately 10 years of no additional funding for our transportation services, so it’s timely to take a look,” he said. “Also, we are in the midst of a strategic planning exercise that I think will bring about significant changes in the district. We want this to be included as part of our strategic planning so all the programs are linked and we don’t make decisions in isolation.”

Brennan says the review will look at which bus routes are viable and necessary and which routes the district may consider eliminating, and it may also look at potential new routes.

“Safety, of course, is a particular concern,” he said. “Roads are getting busier, and in places like Yellow Point and Cedar, there are no sidewalks, so student safety is a concern.”

Brennan says charging students to ride the bus is something that comes up for consideration often, and school boards have debated that in the past but never implemented it.

“They can’t justify placing additional costs on families because our school district has quite a high number of families in need, and the idea of putting an additional burden on them by making them pay for busing seems unreasonable,” he said. “In the past, trustees have quite high awareness of the challenges facing families and are quite reluctant to put additional costs on them. I wouldn’t say 100-per-cent no we won’t do it, but when we look at how boards in the past have acted, it’s unlikely.”

As part of the busing review, the district is asking parents for their perspectives on the current school bus system. By going online, parents can give their thoughts on the following questions:

• What are the most important features of the current school bus system for you?

• Looking at the list of topics the consultant will review, and given the financial constraints faced by the school district, are there changes you think the district should consider to the school bus system?

The school district is asking parents to share their thoughts by Oct. 1. After collecting parents’ feedback, district staff will follow up by e-mail to ask parents to choose their priorities from the answers they received. A summary of thoughts and priorities that the district receives will be given to the consultants for their consideration in the review.

The consultant’s report and recommendations will be presented to the board of education later this school year. Once the board receives the consultant’s report, there would be a consultation process with parents if any recommendations meant major changes to the current system, according to the district.