Changes are on the way to how eligibility is determined for students who will be riding the school bus.
In March of 2023, Alberta Education announced changes that will lower the distance requirements for students to access transportation on the school bus. Under the current requirements, students must live 2.4 kilometers or greater walking distance from their designated school to access busing without a fee. The change to the funding manual lowers the distance to one kilometer for Grade 1 to 6 students and two kilometers for Grade 7 to 12 students, beginning September 2024. Both those requirements also change how the distance is measured, from walking distance to driving distance. That will make a significant impact in calculating eligible students.
In Wolf Creek Public Schools, our transportation department recently sent out a survey to families that fall within the new requirement boundaries to get a better understanding of family intentions for busing for the coming school year. The survey aims to find out who intends to ride the bus. We know that may be a hard decision for some to make regarding next school year so early in this school year. We know that circumstances can change for many families, but it is crucial to get a snapshot of those intentions so Wolf Creek can start planning.
Wolf Creek has nearly 90 bus routes, and its buses travel nearly 5,000 kilometers per day, or more than 850,000 kilometers per year. We currently bus approximately half of the students who attend Wolf Creek schools.
Like many school divisions, we continue to be challenged with hiring, training and retaining bus drivers needed to fulfill the routes currently serving our schools. Our transportation department continues to work to find, hire and train amazing drivers as often as we can, but more are always needed. This will be even more difficult to attain with the new changes, as it will mean more drivers to hire. Additionally, the purchasing of many more buses and changes to bus routes will also be needed to fulfill the changes of the distance requirements.
Many school divisions charge a universal busing fee to help cover the cost of transportation. Many are also moving towards such a fee in light of the new distance requirements. Wolf Creek has not set anything in stone, but are polling families in the current survey on the idea of a fee.
The results of the survey will be crucial in planning for the 2024/25 school year. The survey was sent out earlier in November to those families that fall within the one kilometer and two kilometer or greater areas within the new requirements. If you feel you should have received the survey, but did not, please feel free to reach out to the Wolf Creek Public Schools’ transportation department at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As we continue to work towards next year, we know that implementing the requirement changes will be challenge for the division. We are committed to continued communication to busing families as we move through this school year and prepare for the changes in the 2024/25 school year.
Luci Henry, is the board chair for Wolf Creek Public Schools. Wolf Creek Public Schools’ board is served by trustees representing the communities and rural areas of Alix, Bentley, Blackfalds, Bluffton, Clive, Eckville, Lacombe, Ponoka, and Rimbey.