Sooke School District reintroducing school bus fees

Sooke School District reintroducing school bus fees
File photo of an SD62 bus.

The Sooke School District (SD62) is restarting its fees for school bus users after roughly seven years without them.

The fees will be introduced in September for the 2024-25 year, as a way to help the Sooke school district balance its $2.8 million deficit.

Since 2016, the Sooke School District has not charged anything for its school bus service, except for a $25 safety fee.

However, with the $2.8 million shortfall on the horizon, the school district says it had to abandon the free service, since school districts in B.C. are required to have a balanced budget.

SD62 says the price of the upcoming bus fee will be determined at an upcoming Resources Committee meeting on June 11. A fee of $300 is on the agenda, but that total is considered a placeholder for now.

In 2016, the school district was charging $225 for bus passes.

The school district adds that there will be financial assistance and discounts for families with multiple riders.

SD62 says it costs approximately $3.1 million per year to run its bus services, but the province only provides $358,365 in funding for school transportation, a total that hasn’t increased since 2017.

“It is anticipated that the fee will only offset 40 per cent of the cost that it takes to transport riders for the school year,” said the school district in a release on May 30, adding that the district will cover the remaining cost.

$2.8M budget shortfall

The school district says most of its budget shortfall, some $2.2 million out of the $2.8 million total, comes from “unfunded inflation pressures,” such as rising costs of utilities and benefits.

It also says it lost $400,000 in funding from the province since the B.C. government reclassified the school district’s “unique geographic location” to be considered more urban – with populations on the rise in Langford and Colwood.

The Ministry of Education confirms that the Sooke School District is losing $400,000 from the province’s Geographic Factors Funding, but that it will still be receiving more than $8 million more in operating and special grants for the 2024-25 year compared to the year before, due to increased enrolment.

“All districts are eligible for additional funding from the province that helps support the unique and additional costs they experience due to factors such as their rural location, low enrolment, sparseness of school locations, student proximity to the nearest school, and schools located in smaller communities, among others,” said the ministry in a statement Friday.

At the end of the day, the SD62 board says it’s trying its best to give students the best classroom experiences possible.

“The educational landscape is evolving rapidly, marked by increasingly complex classrooms and a rising demand for support services among students,” said Amanda Dowhy, SD62 board chair.

“Historically, schools have faced the challenge of doing more with less. The reality is that public funding is finite. As Trustees, our unwavering commitment lies in safeguarding our students’ classroom experiences amidst budgetary challenges,” she said.

SEE ALSO: ‘Every day there are these violations’: West Shore school bus operators urge drivers to stop passing at stops

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