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Northwestern B.C. school district axes bus fee

The Coast Mountains School board has decided it's not worth it to implement a bussing fee for students attending a school outside of their designated neighbourhood school.

That was the decision at the board's final meeting of the school year June 25, following conflicting recommendations from the two board committees studying an original fee plan.

The plan had been to implement a $20 per student fee, to the maximum of $40 per family, at the beginning of the school year last fall, but after an outcry from parents who charged it was implemented without consultation or consideration of the financial strain the fee would place on parents, the board decided to delay that implementation until this coming fall while it studied the issue further.

A presentation from local French Immersion activists at last month's board meeting, which said the move would deter students from entering French Immersion as many students cross boundaries to attend those schools, appears to have been the final push in convincing the board to ditch the fee.

The business committee and the education committee studied the fee following the French Immersion presentation, with the former committee recommending to scrap the fee and the latter recommending to keep it.

At last night's meeting, in discussing how to proceed, school board chair Art Erasmus said the amount of money the board would have saved by charging cross-boundary bussing fees is “minimal” compared to the total district budget.

“It's about $25,000 in a $53 million – $57 million dollar budget,” Erasmus said. “And the amount of time required to collect it and to deal with the indigent students is pretty massive.”

But the bigger piece for him was the impact on French Immersion students.

French Immersion programs in Kitimat, Terrace, and Hazelton are only offered in one school in each town because there aren't enough students to offer it in every school.

Because of that, Erasmus said he would argue that the neighbourhood school is the school where that program exists.

Kitimat trustee Raymond Raj agreed.

“When it comes to French Immersion, if we were providing French Immersion in every school then we'd have no argument. We'd say, 'Hey, you want to go to the other school? You pay for it.' But if in every district we are providing French Immersion in only one school and we are telling everybody we're providing it, but now it's your responsibility to get there, I don't think that is fair,” he said.

Erasmus noted that if the board is going to exempt French Immersion students from the fee, it isn't worth implementing it for the other students going to school outside of their neighbourhood school because the French Immersion students are “the biggest piece of the cross-boundary bussing $25,000.”

“If you took the French Immersion out, then there's very little in it and it's not worth pursuing,” he said.

 

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