Rutherford students could get a seat on a school bus next year.
Nanaimo school trustees were near-unanimous at a business committee meeting Wednesday about a recommendation to bus students for one year from the soon-to-close Rutherford Elementary to Frank J. Ney school.
The new route, which would use a spare bus and driver, would cost an estimated $43,000 and would be reviewed after a year.
Rutherford students heading to Frank J. Ney school are within district walk limits and ineligible for bus service, however, several parents have expressed issues with the catchment boundary, as well as the distance children must now walk to school and the safety of Hammond Bay Road.
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The school board agreed in March to have staff look at expanding school bus service and trustees considered a range of options Wednesday, including using an existing route or a new route. The later would cost four and a half times more than a bus on an existing route, but would drop off and pick up students close to bell times instead of nearly an hour before and after school.
Also mentioned in a staff report was the potential to grandfather a route for seven years, run a service for one year and review it or provide courtesy bus routes on a fee-for-service basis.
Trustee Tania Brzovic said she had leaned towards grandfathering so people could have the consistency of knowing the route would be there for a while but was prepared to support a motion to have a new route for a year because even if the route is reviewed, the board has the right to decide to keep it.
“I don’t think we are shutting anything down by doing it this way and it gives more credibility by allowing it to be under the transportation policy and under that review process,” she said.
Jeff Solomon, trustee, said he has a lot of concerns, specifically about the cost, but noted that the school is being closed, a lot of parents are concerned about how they will navigate the route, “so we are taking some responsibility.”
Trustee Stephanie Higginson, who opposed the motion, said she felt there was the time to get answers in order to be prudent and thoughtful and ensure the right thing is being done for the district and the community affected by school closure. She also thought the district would open itself to a floodgate of requests by doing something quickly.
“It’s not that I am necessarily opposed to this, but once you put a bus route on it’s really hard to take it off and I don’t think it’s financially prudent of us to put this bus route on for one year,” said Higginson, who also didn’t think it’s fair to the community.
Rutherford parent Greg Keller supports the motion but said it doesn’t get to the real issue.
“Anything we can do to soften the blow and to reduce the impact on families is a good thing, but it doesn’t really get to the meat of the issue which is, why are we busing kids, or having kids go that distance to Frank Ney, when there’s a school that’s much closer that they could have attended?” he asked, adding busing wouldn’t be needed if there were more rational catchment boundaries.
The motion will go to the school board for a final vote.