Bus plan defies common sense

Slicing $33.7 million from an already frayed public school budget is like trying to trim the fat off an anorexic – only so much can be taken away before there’s nothing left. But it’s no reason to throw common sense out the window.

And yet, that’s what the school board staff was forced to do when it simultaneously proposed closing schools and cutting student transportation.

Anyone can see the inherent contradiction in this plan – closing schools means many children will have to go further to get to their new schools. That necessitates more transportation, not less.

Close schools and cut busing? It’s as if the proposed cuts were picked at random, like food items off the menu at a Chinese restaurant.

Alone, the cuts are troublesome enough. Imagine sending elementary school students off to school in the care of OC Transpo – a system frantic enough for adults, let alone little kids. Imagine parents instructing their children at what stop they should pull the chord and hop off the bus. “Can I get a transfer please?”

Some of these kids still need help tying their own shoes.

Three Centretown schools face closure: Elgin Street, Centennial, and Cambridge. Many of the students from these schools could soon be travelling to new schools, adding hundreds to the number who already ride school buses.

About 13,000 students now ride the yellow buses. Cutting the service would leave a staggering number of children without a convenient way to get to school (as if students don’t need another good excuse to avoid school).

The continuing depletion of the school board budget also gives parents a good excuse to yank their children out of the public school system.

Maybe these cuts will be manageable for those who can afford to move their children to other school boards, or to private schools, or to pay for alternate ways to get their kids to school. But for many, it won’t.

In many cities across Canada, people take for granted the fact that a yellow school bus will safely deliver their children to and from school. It’s sad that in Ottawa this will be considered a privilege.

If Ottawa must move towards a system where parents pay for busing, then so be it. If certain schools must be closed and sold off, so it goes. But to close schools and then deny children a way to get to their new schools is preposterous.

The school board staff are in an unenviable position and one hopes the proposed cuts were chosen out of sheer desperation.

There’s no easy way to find $33.7 million. In the end, the unsettling lack of common sense isn’t with the school board budget at all, but surrounds the real culprits – the provincial government.

– Colin Campbell