Changes in store in fall to school busing for UCDSB

BROCKVILLE – Trustees at the Upper Canada District School Board were updated on changes approved by Student Transportation of Eastern Ontario, the consortium that provides busing for the board. The changes impact students who receive courtesy bus transportation and walk zones for schools. The update was provided at the board’s June 6th meeting.

Superintendent of Business Robert Backstrom told the board that the walk zones for UCDSB are being changed for Grades 7 and 8 students. Until now, students in those grades who live further than 1.6 kilometres away from their school qualified for bus transportation. Under the changes approve by STEO’s board of directors, that distance would increase to two kilometres, putting it in line with secondary school Grades 9 to 12 students.

A bigger change is in store for courtesy riders. Until now, STEO would offer courtesy rides for students who live within a walk zone, providing a seat was available on the bus. These seats would be available after the school year starts and bus routes stabilized. Under the changes, this service will be discontinued in the new school year. Students with approved medical needs would still be provided with this arrangement.

“The impact on this is for walk zones and courtesy riders,” said board chair Jeff McMillan. “The goal is to find efficencies.”

The board will notify affected students of the changes in time for the new school year.

No changes will be made to previously grandfathered transportation arrangements due to programming, nor to out-of-boundary school transportation, for now. Backstrom said that these arrangements are being looked at, but through a longer time table “in the next two to three years,” he said.

Backstom added that in discussions with staff and school principals, show they have had to go back to previous principals to look at why grandfathering of student transportation was approved. “We’re working on that slowly,” he said.

McMillan voiced his concern that disruptions to grandfathered and out of boundary transportation had a bigger impact for the UCDSB. “I have sent a letter expressing our concerns as a board, the impact it would have on us,” he said. “Whether or not we move forward with that in the next year or in the next two or three years is really up for debate, as the impact on our board is significant. Much more significant than I think we knew about in the beginning.”

Backstrom said that the board is looking at a process to appeal changes for parents who were unhappy with the changes.

Many of the trustees at the meeting raised concerns about changes to the courtesy bus riders and walk zone safety.

Trustee David McDonald asked about a family who had two children who were going to have to walk in Cornwall, in an area without sidewalks, while a younger sibling qualifies for bus transportation because of the walk-zones.

“What is the cost impact to cancelling those open seats,” he asked.

“If we can eliminate a bus, it’s $55,000,” Backstrom replied. “If we can’t, it’s not going to be that much obviously.”

When pressed by McDonald about the overall cost savings to the board, Backstrom said they are still looking at the routes, but figured three to four buses in total would be eliminated. According to Backstrom’s presentation, there are 851 students who presently have grandfathered, out-of-boundary, or courtesy transportation. The changes go into effect at the start of the 2018-19 school year.