Will Hay River students have a bus to ride when school starts on Friday morning? None of the education bodies involved were able to confirm what’s happening this week.
Mark Harris, chair of the Hay River district education authority or DEA, said the authority was “still trying to find out what’s happening” on Monday afternoon. The DEA is responsible for providing education services to students in Hay River and Enterprise.
In past years, the DEA has run three buses: one for students living in West Point, one for students in Paradise Gardens (about a 20-minute drive from the school), and one for students in the town.
Combined, the service costs just over $150,000 per year to run. The DEA says $82,000 of that funding comes from the territorial government’s funding formula, which takes into account things like the number of students and the distance they live from the schools. The rest of the money is pulled by the DEA from other budgets – typically from its operations and maintenance line item – to make up the shortfall.
But in May, the DEA said it had reached a breaking point and no longer had the money to keep the buses running.
Under the NWT’s Education Act, education bodies may provide transportation to schools and can charge fees for this service if they choose. The act does not require DEAs to offer transportation.
On Monday evening, a Department of Education, Culture, and Employment spokesperson said: “The minister is aware that the Hay River district education authority has announced that it will no longer be providing student transportation services and is using every option available to him to ensure that a level of student transportation is in place so those in need are able to access the education program.”
Education minister RJ Simpson is also one of Hay River’s two MLAs – the other MLA is his father, Rocky Simpson.
Earlier this week, one parent in the town said they had been reassured by their MLA – It’s unclear which Simpson was involved – that busing would be going ahead. However, if that’s the case, it’s not clear where the money is coming from and what fees parents may have to pay.
The parent wrote, “Honestly, the reply I received was: ‘Buses will commence Friday and run normally.’” Cabin Radio has not seen the reply to verify it.
Another single parent living in Hay River’s Old Town told Cabin Radio driving their children to school will be costly. This parent said she had one friend who lives down the street from her and doesn’t have a vehicle, so has no way of driving her children to school, while another friend was planning to homeschool her three children as it wouldn’t be affordable to drive them to school daily.
The NWT government said it provides the approximately $321,000 to the South Slave divisional education council for school transportation in its five communities.
“Of this amount, approximately $90,500 is allocated to the Hay River DEA. In developing their budgets, divisional education councils have the flexibility to allocate resources as they deem necessary in order to support their priorities,” said a spokesperson for the territory.