In 2023-24, free busing will be available for all Slave Lake catholic school students and for public school students living within the new busing parameters.

In the 2023-24 school years, school divisions have the option of busing using the old system or the new one. Two local school divisions are responding differently, but both will be busing more students.

Living Waters Catholic Schools is keeping the 2.4 km walking distance from the old system.

In a letter, Living Waters Catholic Schools announced free busing for all students. However, the way to sign up is different for out-of-town (over 2.4 km from school) and in-town (2.4 km or less) students. For out-of-town busing, parents should contact the High Prairie School Division (HPSD), which buses students for both divisions. For in-town busing, Living Waters parents should contact their child’s school – St. Mary of the Lake Catholic School at 780-849-5244 and St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Academy at 780-849-5245. School offices are closed for July and most of August.

At the June 20, 2023, HPSD board meeting, the trustees voted to implement the new busing distances.

Under the new system, Kindergarten to Grade 6 students who live one km or more from their school and Grade 7 to 12 students who live two km or more will be bused for free. HPSD will not be offering busing to students who live closer than the new limits. In the past, these students could be bused for a fee.

However, last year bus driver shortages in Slave Lake meant that wasn’t always an option from November until the end of the year.

“How many kids are we adding to our buses?” asked vice-chair Tammy Henkel.

HPSD is expecting about 900 more students, answered Laura Poloz, superintendent. This will use up every spare bus that the division owns, routes will be longer and buses will be fuller.

For a 72-passenger bus, full means three Kindergarten to Grade 6 students per seat and two Grade 7 to 12.

Busing is still difficult in Slave Lake and is “tenuous” in the western part of the division, Falher area.

“We have about 10 spare drivers in Slave Lake,” said Poloz, but few of them want to cover a regular route.

For the regular routes, the biggest factor will be bus drivers. If someone is sick, the division may have to use double runs, which would bring kids to school at different times.

Another challenge will be field trips outside of school hours. There may be spare drivers willing to drive, but since there are no spare buses, these might not be an option.

Another challenge with the new system is that the funding under the new system doesn’t increase per student, said Poloz. Instead, with 900 more students being bused, HPSD will receive half as much funding from the government per student for busing.

“We’ll be running at a deficit,” said Poloz, “and that doesn’t include buying new buses.”

Chair Joy McGregor suggested that the trustees contact the two MLAs for the area – Todd Loewen (Central Peace – Notley) and Scott Sinclair (Lesser Slave Lake) to discuss the transportation challenges. She also recommended talking with the Minister of Education Demetrios Nicolaides.

HPSD is not alone in these concerns.

Aspen View School Division runs Smith School.

In June, Aspen View trustees sent letters to the Minister of Education and their, MLA Glenn van Dijken, which included similar concerns about transportation.

In Slave Lake, busing all of the students who fall into the new distances requires eight more bus routes, HPSD director of communications Kyle Nichols told The Leader back in April. Extra Kinuso School students were expected to fit on existing bus routes.

by Pearl Lorentzen

This item copyrighted by / Lakeside Leaader   Slave Lake, Alberta

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