Revamped school bus schedule slated for Alberni

SD70 bus routes in Alberni will be adjusted to address safety issues but cross boundary and school of choice concerns won't be accommodated.

Concerns raised by parents have resulted in changes to School District 70’s new school bus schedule.

The changes will be based solely around addressing safety considerations, School District 70 Superintendent Cam Pinkerton said. “The major concern raised were around safety issues in getting kids to bus marshalling areas,” Pinkerton said.

School district staff and trustees met with a dozen parents last Thursday to discuss concerns around the new busing schedule.

Parents in rural parents cited animal contact issues, narrow roads, and no lighting as safety issues, he said. But of particular concern was the distance some children had to walk to bus marshaling areas.

New bus routes were established along Ministry of Education guidelines, which stipulate that children in Grades 4-12 walk up to five kilometres to a marshaling area.

School district staff have tweaked the routes to accommodate safety concerns, Pinkerton said. Now, pick-up and drop-off times along all school bus routes will be changed by anywhere from 15-20 minutes, he said.

The new routes will be implemented on Monday, Sept. 30.

Specific changes will be communicated to students in a newsletter home on Sept. 26. They will also be published on SD70’s web and Facebook pages. Bus drivers will be handing out information, and they’ll be published in newspapers as well.

The solutions don’t work for everyone but they do work for some, said Tamara Goovaerts, the only Sproat Lake resident who attended the meeting.

“I left the meeting satisfied that the issue with our children’s bus was addressed,” Tamara said. “Not everyone’s issues were addressed though and my heart goes out to parents who are going to struggle to get their kids to school.”

In the Sept. 19 issue of the News, Jason Goovaerts said he was concerned because his children’s school bus stop was moved to a location directly along a busy Highway 4.

“The bus will now be going along Lakeshore Road instead and they’ll be dropped off a safer stop,” Goovaerts said.

The bulk of the parents at the meeting were from Beaver Creek and their issues involved cross-boundary and school-of-choice busing, Goovaerts said.

Students from Beaver Creek who attend French Immersion at Alberni Elementary used to be able to be bussed there. But under new regulations their busing only extends to AW Neill Middle School and Gill School.

“They’ve added more stops out Beaver Creek so kids won’t have to walk so far to marshaling areas but they can’t do anything to address other issue,” Goovaerts said.

No other Sproat Lake residents were at the meeting, something that surprised Goovaerts, who said they’ll be impacted by the same issues soon enough.

“People can send their kids to Alberni Elementary for French Immersion because it’s still in our catchment area,” she said. “But if you want to continue in middle school they have to go to EJ Dunn, and under the present policies we can’t have them bused there.”

The district has limited resources available to it to address transportation, and therefore can only address safety issues, Pinkerton said.

In 2011, the school district announced that it was going to receive less money from the Ministry of Education for transportation. Earlier this year, the district said it was taking steps to make up for the pending $750,000 hit.

The district removed three bus runs in Alberni as part of several measures implemented to cope with the change. The move equated to 150 students, who had to be loaded into the remaining buses, Pinkerton said.

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