By Peggy Revell
Southern Alberta Newspapers
With many rural communities split by both a railway and highway, Prairie Rose School Division trustees grappled Tuesday with how to get students safely to school.
Trustees received a request from a Bow Island family that busing be provided for students living on the south side of the town – where students have to cross both Highway Three and railroad tracks to get to school. Families from the northwest part of the town would also be interested in busing.
There are 270 students within Bow Island, with 66 located on the south side, reported PRSD’s transportation supervisor Val Miller.
“If we bus all the students we would have to add an additional bus,” she said – costing $40,000-60,000.
No additional buses would be needed if just south side students were bused, but there would be an estimated additional $1,188 for the rest of this school year and $3,960 for a full year.
“I can certainly empathize and understand what parents are saying with that,” said board chair and Bow Island trustee Stuart Angle, noting there is a high amount of traffic during rush hour, and only one cross-walk.
While the idea of having students from just Kindergarten to Grade 6 was suggested, trustees worried about the safety of all students, no matter the age.
“There’s also high school students who cross on the east where there isn’t a cross walk,” said trustee Kathy Cooper, noting it was a high school student killed in 2013 at the railway crossing.
And trustee Cathy Hogg said many older students are using electronic devices and earphones which means they aren’t paying attention when crossing.
“I think for this really small amount of money, this is something we can put in place for their safety,” she said.
Initially, a motion was put forward for busing for the south side, free of cost – but this motion failed to pass as trustees decided the best course of action would be to see what is in place in other communities within the division so they can be consistent.
“I don’t think we’ll come up with a good decision today,” said Wickens.
PRSD is running a $163,000 deficit in its transportation budget. Provincial transportation funding is only for students who live further than 2.4 kilometres from school. Busing can be provided by the division if parents are willing to pay an additional fee – another possibility raised at the meeting.
Trustee Bob Wickens asked if there were provisions in place so if a parent couldn’t pay the fee it could be waived, but Miller said the division takes a bit of a “hard nose” approach to be consistent.
“I wouldn’t want a child to be unsafe because parents couldn’t afford a fee,” said Cooper.
With highways and railroads intersecting in many communities, trustee Graeme Dennis suggested the division approach the Ministry of Transportation about extending school zones to highway crossings during certain hours.
Miller noted that such a change would take a while to implement, “It wouldn’t just be a Bow Island Issue, it would extend all across the province.”