Another nail in the rural coffin
By Bill Phillips
Every day, for all 12 years of my schooling, I rode the school bus.
Yes I was a rural kid. Still am. So perhaps I’m a little jaded when talk turns to yet another attack on the rural Canada we all so seemingly want to idolize, adore, and aspire to emulate.
The School District 57 board of education is looking at possibly charging families whose kids ride school buses $100 per child, up to a maximum of $300.
It’s a little crazy, coming from board members who like to espouse that they are a rural board (of course they have summarily dismissed the notion of electing representatives from the rural areas of the district, but that’s another story). In fairness, none of the board members like the idea. However, rather than dismiss the notion outright, which they could have done, they referred it to committee.
That pretty much means that bus kids will be paying come September.
This is wrong on so many levels, I hardly know where to begin.
I don’t support charging fee for busing, but if the district goes ahead there should, at the very least, be some sort of means test that provides exemptions for families for whom $300 poses a read hardship.
Then there’s the whole situation, which isn’t a rural one, where students live within walking distance of a school but are told they have to attend one across town and are bused there.
Once again, I don’t support charging a fee for busing, but if the district goes ahead, students within walking distance of an operating school, should have the ability to attend that school.
But that isn’t the society we built. Our society is built on the idea that, collectively, we can provide services that we can’t individually. We pay taxes so our governments can provide those services.
The other, larger problem for the school district, is that school boards have become great scapegoats for provincial decisions. There is talk that the Liberal government might do away with school boards. Why would they? The provincial government pulls all the economic levers, determines budgets, and makes all the cuts, while the local school board has to deliver the bad news to the community and face the ire of angry parents. Great set up for Victoria, not so good for school boards.
There is one option, however, that I don’t think any school board has taken. School boards do have the ability to go to referendum to raise local funds. Maybe it’s time. Victoria certainly isn’t going to make it any easier on school districts, especially rural ones.
Bill Phillips is a freelance columnist living in Prince George. He was the winner of the 2009 Best Editorial award at the British Columbia/Yukon Community Newspaper Association’s Ma Murray awards, in 2007 he won the association’s Best Columnist award. In 2004, he placed third in the Canadian Community Newspaper best columnist category and, in 2003, placed second. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org