The number of kilometres Clearview buses cover in one year is the equivalent of one bus travelling around the earth close to 40 times, it was revealed at the Clearview School district meeting on January 30, 2014.
Clearview has approximately 54 active routes, transporting 1,300 students daily, representing 54 per cent of their total student population.
After much discussion and a split vote, a motion was passed to proceed with a Request for Quotation towards the purchase of two 70-passenger seat buses (seats 46 high school students) and six 46-passenger buses (seats 36 high school students). Five voted for the motion with Trustees Cassidy and Schofer voting against.
Administration estimates the eight buses will cost $730,000 and will be funded through reserves which are built up by amortizing buses over a 10-year period.
Administration wanted the flexibility offered by purchasing larger buses, noting a 46-passenger bus costs only $1,500 more than a 36-passenger bus and has under-floor storage which is beneficial for extracurricular trips.
Trustees Cassidy and Schofer argued large buses with few students angers taxpayers.
“Why buy bigger buses than we need,” asked Cassidy. “$1,500 times eight adds up, smaller buses are more fuel efficient and have a smoother ride.”
Trustees Holloway and Schofer expressed surprise that diesel engines were starting to have major troubles at 300,000 km. Maryann Wingie, Director of Transportation was in attendance and explained the large number of kilometres travelled on gravel and/or unplowed roads have a significant impact on the life of vehicles. She also said parts are often not available after 10 years.
An analysis was done on whether micro buses should be considered for those sparsely-located students or whether parents be offered payment to drive their children to school. Neither option made economic sense. If a school district paid a parent to drive their children, the provincial funding for that student would be lost.
Microbuses have been used in Prairieland and Prairie Rose School Divisions for daily runs and other divisions have tried microbuses for special needs students and extracurricular activities.
The most frequent feedback gathered from these users was concerns about stability and safety, higher maintenance costs from damage on gravel roads, frequency of being stuck in snow and mud, significant lower body damage and rust and lower life expectancy.
Four-day school week
In an attempt to become more collaborative, less top down and provide parents, teachers, communities and students with fewer surprises, members of the Clearview School Board will be seeking input on whether to consider Botha, Byemoor, Erskine, Big Valley and Donalda schools for a four-day week. The joint Board/School Council meeting in Stettler on February 13 is another opportunity for the Board to receive feedback.
Funding bus routes
With the current Alberta government transportation funding formula of ‘x’ amount per student, rural school districts are in a financial deficit position while urban school districts usually end up with a windfall from their bussing grants.
Each year, Clearview has to find up to $500,000 from allocated dollars to subsidize the shortfall in transportation funding. This year the division has generated the extra from non-revenue riders ($210,000) and the Equity of Opportunity Grant ($300,000). To date, the government has allowed Districts to keep money from students who are eligible for bus service, but never use it (non-revenue riders).
On request from the previous Board, Administration provided a comprehensive breakdown of funding generated by route versus the cost of each route. Not unexpectedly, the routes with the fewest children and the most kilometres were grossly underfunded by the current formula, since the formula has no correlation to expenses (operating costs per kilometre).
The Transportation Department continues to look for efficiencies. One obvious cost saving, which has been actively pursued by the Clearview Board for some years, is a cooperative bussing agreement with the East Central Catholic School District in the County for Stettler. Such an agreement is in place in the County of Paintearth and is cost-efficient for taxpayers. Dave Goodwin mentioned that he’s been told that the Catholic Board has been reluctant to enter into an agreement because of something that happened 10 or 12 years ago.
The previous Board had directed Administration to analyze ways to develop cooperative programming for Castor and Coronation students. At a meeting with Cam Brown, Daram Van Oers, principals of Coronation and Castor respectively, and Superintendent, John Bailey, and Rob Rathwell, Coordinator of Administrative and Instructional Support, many ideas were discussed. However, the group believes that before any changes in structure/organization are made two questions need to be answered. (1) Does the proposed change make educational sense for students? (2) If cost savings are the goal, then those cost savings would need to be significant enough to outweigh other factors (i.e. increased travel time for students).
Replacing the Provincial Achievement Tests (PAT), with Student Learning Assessments (SLA) is now underway. This June, Grade 3 students will write SLAs, Grade 6 will transition from PATs to SLAs in September 2015 and Grade 12 will make the switch in September 2016.
In a report prepared by Superintendent, John Bailey, it was written that “principals have reported people seem to be relieved that the old style test is finally being replaced with an assessment tool which will support Alberta Education’s direction of personalized learning based on a child’s strengths or areas needing improvement at the start of a school year.”
Ken Checkel on behalf of Clearview’s students, parents and communities wrote a letter to Fred Horne, Minister of Health dated January 22, 2014 expressing support for the continuation of the Mental Health Capacity Building in Schools Initiative (MHCB).
The School Board is seeking continued funding beyond June of 2014 when the current partnership expires. Clearview’s experience has been that this kind of investment in prevention leads to less reactive and crisis management needs in the future. Children, youth and families are better able to self-protect and invest in their own mental health and well-being which in turn has a direct correlation with the child’s ability to be successful in school.
The goals of having total daily ride times for Kindergarten to Grade 9 riders of not over one hour with less than three per cent of riders over two hours has been met. The high school ride times have met the one hour 15 minutes daily ride times with less than the 15 per cent of riders over two hours.
A comprehensive analysis was done by the Transportation Department on one route to see if reconfiguring could eliminate two students from riding the bus over an hour a day. Using four difference scenarios, no option could be found that would help those two students without negatively impacting many other students.