A petition has been launched by concerned parents over the Vernon School District’s plan to increase bus ridership fees from $25 to $200 or, in some cases, $300. (Black Press file photo)

Concerned parents launch petition opposing Okanagan school district bus fee hike

Families in Vernon School District could go from paying $25 to $200 or, in some cases, $300

Parents concerned over the Vernon School District’s school bus fee increase for 2021-22 have started a petition opposing the move.

More than 300 signatures toward a goal of 500 had been received on the petition as of 11 a.m. Sunday, Feb. 21.

The Vernon School District announced Wednesday, Feb. 17, that kids who currently ride the bus for $25 would see their family charged $200 for 2021-22, and, in some cases, $300.

“Despite possible subsidies for this new fee, it is still beyond comprehension that such a substantial increase would be necessary,” said Vernon School District parent Krystal Aarcand, who is organizing the petition.

One parent called the news “insane,” and the proposed hikes have drawn plenty of conversation on social media platforms.

French immersion students, and those in other programs of choice, will pay even more: $300.

The fee for courtesy riders within their school catchment will remain the same at $200. While those taking the bus to a school outside of their catchment area will pay $300.

“Should the rider need a second route, the same fee will apply for the second route,” reads the transportation rider fee schedule, which was approved Feb. 17. “Should the rider’s second address be located on the same route as the first address, only one rider fee will apply.”

Students who only take the bus one way will get a 50 per cent discount on the rider fee. But students who only ride the bus for one semester will not.

There are some discounts for those with more than two children. Family ridership fees are reduced by 50 per cent for the third child. The fourth and any additional children will only be charged $25 each.

The school district said the increased fees are needed to cover expenses, including six new routes required to implement eligible ridership from programs of choice at a cost of $50,000 per route. The increase in fees would bring in an estimated extra $300,000 if the same number of students continue to ride the bus.

The District Parent Advisory Council (DPAC) had urged the school board to implement a lower fee.

“We believe that a fee range between $110-150 would be more than sufficient to cover the initially estimated shortfalls to align with the transportation policy,” DPAC transportation task force said in a letter to the board.

The petition said the proposed hike would be especially devastating for rural families.

“Considering we are already contributing to school tax and have a right to access education, this is completely unfair to rural families especially in an economically depressed area, that has been further economically affected during COVID times,” said Arcand.

The petition calls for Vernon School Board trustees with mandates to Lumby and the Regional District of Okanagan to review the fee hike and help change the increase and/or eliminate ridership fees in the school district.

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roger@vernonmorningstar.com

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