Thursday , 23 September 2021

Fees for in-town bussing returns as NLPS passes $82M 2020-21 budget

Parents who send their children on NLPS school buses and live in town will have to pay a fee starting next year.

Northern Lights’ communications officer Nicole Garner said the board has been running a deficit for transportation for years and will no longer move money designated for classrooms to bussing.

Bussing Kindergarten to Grade 4 students who live within 1.6 kilometres of their school and bussing Grade 5-6 students who live within 2.4 kilometres of their school will cost parents $380 a year.

Meanwhile, Grade 7-12 students who live within 2.4 kilometres of their school will be charged $500 in 2020-21.

No fees will be charged to Kindergarten students who live farther than 1.6 kilometres from their school.

This will affect NLPS students in Bonnyville, Cold Lake, and Lac La Biche.

She said NLPS doesn’t receive provincial dollars for students who live within 2.4 kilometres of their school.

“The first thing is that we would absolutely love to be able to continue that up. But we did have to balance our budget,” said Garner.

“It’s a service that we do not receive funding for from the government and one of the goals that the board had with this budget–and you can see that with some of the other decisions that they’re talking about–was to keep as much money in the classroom as possible.

“So we did not want to pull money from the classroom to pay for in-town busing and potentially impact class sizes, or the number of EAs (educational assistants) that we have in a school or classroom or things directly related to classroom instruction for students.”

It’s the first time NLPS is charging for in town bussing since 2015-16 and the fees for the 2020-21 school year are the same as before.

The province sets the criteria for how schools get funding for transporting students.

Northern Lights passed their $82 million budget as the provincial funding formula for schools has changed.

Moving forward, half of their funding will come from the projected enrollment for the next school, 30 per cent will reflect the current enrollment, while 20 per cent is weighted from last year’s enrollment.

Before, schools received base funding for K-9 students and funding for high school students when they receive credits.

Seventy-five per cent of the 2020-21 budget will be spent on schools and classroom instruction, while 25 per cent will go towards maintenance.

Staffing levels have been reduced through attrition on the maintenance side, said Garner.

“Basically, the formulas for some grants disappeared, but then they were rolled into other grants. And so it just changed everything. The only thing that didn’t change was transportation funding,” said Garner.

“But that is currently under review by the government and they’re doing some consultations, so we’re expecting that that will likely change for next year.”

Kindergarten delivery will look differently as teachers and education assistants will split classroom with students, either half-days or every other day.

As the class size initiative grant was taken, the province provided bridge funding which minimizes the impact to a loss of $400,000.

Bridge funding of $3.2 million was provided to NLPS for the 2020-21 year but that will go down by half the next school year, before ending in 2022-23.

In 2019-20, citing a 340 per cent increase in insurance premiums, NLPS amended their budget to the tune of $2.5 million in January 2020.

They’ve since changed insurance providers to the Alberta Risk Managed Insurance Consortia from the Alberta School Boards’ Insurance Exchange.

This will save NLPS $1.7 million, $1 million of which is going to help retain staff.

About Michael Menzies

Menzies is the editor-at-large for Connected Media Inc. Born and raised in Vermilion, he started in May 2018 during his NAIT Radio and Television practicum and reports on local politics, sports, and community issues. He became the Bonnyville Pontiacs play-by-play voice during the 2019-20 season. He also comments on provincial and national issues. Menzies hosts Connected! Evening Monday-Thursday at 5 o’clock. He also likes to buy books and read some of them.