CHERRYVILLE – It’s still the middle of summer but some families in rural parts of the North Okanagan are already worrying about how their kids will get to school in the fall. Ongoing busing changes in the Vernon School District are coming to Cherryville and Lumby in September and the school district admits the changes will have a big impact for some families.
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“Many students who have been picked up pretty well at their doorstep will now have to travel further, sometimes significantly further, to get to either the bus stop or to their school,” says the school district’s acting secretary-treasurer, Adrian Johnson. “This will impact the lifestyles of those students and those families.”
As of September Kara-Lee Zeolkowski says the nearest bus stop for her four kids will be nine kilometers away. For her, the new bus stop will mean she has to pick-up and drop-off her kids at the bus stop several times a day as they head off to different schools. It may mean she’ll have to cut back her work hours and it could impact her kids extra-circular activities.
“If I were to take my younger children to extra-circulars in Vernon, then my oldest child when he gets dropped off at a later time, would have no safe way home,” she says.
And for parents the concern is not just about the distance, it’s also about safety. Cathie Hymas lives on busy Highway. Instead of getting off the bus at the end of their driveway, Hymas says her daughters’ new stops will be half a kilometer away.
“I’m concerned for all kids in Cherryville having to walk on these highways and roads. We have logging trucks from every area. It’s dark in the mornings. It is a safety concern for me. I still won’t be allowing my children to walk on the highway by themselves,” she says.
The local regional district director believes it could have an impact on the whole community.
“One of our prime objectives is to attract young families and so if the busing changes make it less viable for young families to live in Cherryville, that is not in Cherryville’s interest,” says Hank Cameron, the regional district director for the Cherryville area.
The school district say the changes come down to money and it can’t afford to maintain the status quo.
“We can’t provide what we can’t afford. We can only do so much with the funding available to us,” says Johnson. “We are still providing a great level of service in comparison to our peers. It is just not the level of service that people have been used to in the past.”
While parents hope for improvements, the district is indicating there could be further busing cuts on the way as it tries to trim the budget for the next school year.
Earlier this year the provincial government asked school boards around the province to find over $50 million in savings over two years. However, the provincial education ministry says it is also giving the Vernon School District more operating funding this school year then it did last year.