Peace Wapiti Public School Division will run a more than $800,000 transportation deficit this year. It says busing students around the Peace country has cost the school division more than the province provides in funding for the past 14 years, adding up to a total deficit of $5 million.

“In attempting to maintain this less than adequate service for our rural students, we now have a transportation funding crisis on our hands,” says PWPSD Board Chair Dana McIntosh. “During that time, we have lobbied Ministers and MLAs on the issue, to no avail. Now we are asking county and town councillors, parents and community members to speak out on behalf of our students.”

Trustees will be meeting with area MLAs Wayne Drysdale, Todd Loewen and Marg McCuaig-Boyd Friday, and the way the provincial government funds school transportation will be the focus. It’s done so using a formula that the board argues doesn’t properly take into account how far apart students in rural areas live.

Because of that, McIntosh says some students can spend up to three hours a day on a school bus. Longer ride times are blamed on the need to run fewer buses for greater distances.

“Imagine boarding a school bus in the dark prior to 7 a.m., to return home 10 hours later at 5 p.m. Now imagine doing that at six years of age. That’s a 10 hour day for a young child, longer than most adults’.”

In the 2018/2019 school year, 4,100 students are riding 102 routes, including rural students attending Grande Prairie Public and Catholic School District schools in Beaverlodge, Spirit River, and Sexsmith. PWPSD argues each rider needs an extra $200 in provincial funding to get rid of the deficit and reduce ride times.

Each year, the growing transportation deficit has been covered by instructional funding, which the school district says means the equivalent of 50 fewer teachers, 350,000 fewer books, or programming cuts like inclusive education classrooms, educational assistants, and counsellors. McIntosh urges people concerned to add their voice.

“With a provincial election on the horizon, we believe this is a critical time for our communities to join us in the fight for equitable transportation funding. Our rural families can’t continue to pay the price.”